Bologna, Italy. The name alone conjures up visions of rich food and gorgeous medieval architecture. The largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy had long been on my list of places to see, even more so because Federico talked so fondly of it. I got my chance recently.
We spent a total of four days and three nights in this gorgeous medieval city. The above is just one of the many pictures of Bologna that we like. If you love good food, l encourage you to visit. Bologna is usually referred to as “The Fat, the Red and the Wise”. Here’s your Bologna city guide.
Bologna Italy Guide:
Getting from Rome to Bologna by train:
Bologna has an international airport called the Guglielmo Marconi. It is located about five miles from the city center. Airlines like Emirates and British Airways as well as smaller, low-cost airlines such as Ryanair all land there, so you have options. There are buses that go to the city center from there, saving you cab fare. Another, and l think more popular option for arrival is via train.
The Bologna central station is the 5th busiest one in Italy. We took the Rome to Bologna train at Rome’s Termini station and the whole journey was just under two hours. The price per ticket was €29 ($32.50). They also have slower trains that will get you there in 2.5 hours for slightly cheaper.
It’s a good idea to book at least 48 hours in advance as the price is lower still. Also make sure to check for special deals. For instance in the summer, on Tuesdays, all tickets were just €15. The trains are very nice and the seats very comfortable too. We went with Italo, but you can also go with TrenItalia. It certainly provided a nice train to Bologna ride :-).
Visit Bologna: What is Bologna known for?
Bologna La Rossa (the Red)
This refers to the reddish and other bright colors of its buildings. It also has to do with the red color of the flag and past fascist history. They are certainly red wise as the color just jumps at you.
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Federico has always said that if he were ever to move back to Italy, that is one of the few places he would consider. Having been to Florence, l knew l would like Bologna. I ended up loving it. There was a pace about it that was different from other Italian cities. It doesn’t have the frenetic pace of Rome nor the sometimes exasperating throngs of tourists that visit Florence.
Despite the fact that it was the middle of July, it wasn’t over crowded. Bologna is a popular holiday destination for Italians. Bologna is also a city of porticoes. Lots of them are quite long and very picturesque. They are simply wow! You know Federico is from Rome, so l write about that more. Now l know why l could live in this picturesque city.
Where to stay in Bologna Italy: Hotel Pedrini
After several days (maybe even weeks) scouring the internet trying to find a hotel that fulfilled my requirements which were:
- Center of town
- Free breakfast
- Free WiFi
We found it super convenient to do our Bologna sightseeing from this base. We would definitely recommend it highly for the personal service and the abundant offerings for breakfast.
I ruled out AirBnB because once again, it disappointed. The prices were higher than a lot of the hotels. The Hotel Pedrini ended up ticking all the boxes. The price was right, and the room was big and everywhere was walkable. Winning! The hotel is a family owned one. It is located on a most convenient street, Maggiore, meaning we only had a ten minute walk on the same street to the Plaza Maggiore, the very center.
The Pedrini hotel is set in a former monastery and we really enjoyed it there. The staff was excellent. They gave us recommendations for restaurants and they were spot on. The room was big, stately, but a bit dull and the ceiling art looked like it had been there since day one, but l think that’s part of the charm. I kept picturing monks walking down the halls in silence :-). Would l stay there again? Absolutely. Fresh and unlimited cappuccino and espresso at breakfast too.
You can book your stay at Pedrini Hotel in Bologna.
Bologna Walking Tour:
One of the best things to do in Bologna to familiarize yourself with the city is to take one of the various free walking tours offered by companies. A great way to learn more about the history and what’s on in the city, insights that you might not get on your own. At the end of the tour, make sure to tip your guide as they work for tips only. Most are students of history or college students working their way through university.
Bologna City Guide: What to do in Bologna:
- Visit palazzo Carrati
- See the hidden canals
- Visit the museums such as Civic Museum
- Piazza Maggiore
- Visit the Two Towers of Bologna
- Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi
- Piazza Santo Stefano
- Visit the remains of the old wall
- Basilica di San Petronio
- Visit the Fountain of Neptune (Update: Now open after refurbishment)
Visit Museums in Bologna:
There are plenty of museums in Bologna if you’re inclined to visit, including the Archaeological Civic Museum and Palazzo Poggi Museum. There are in fact over 50 Bologna museums and galleries. We wanted to be outside as it was great weather and soak in the city, so we skipped those and saved them for next time.
There were two obscure things l wanted to see in Bologna;
- A glimpse of the hidden canals. Bet you didn’t know that Bologna had canals like Venice. Used to anyway. Most have long being covered, with roads built on top, not drained. In the middle ages, the canals were built to bring water from the river into the city for the people. They were also good for transporting goods. As usual, motorized vehicles became the norm and they had to go. It took us a long while to find one, with lots of walking and locals to point us the right way. Most had forgotten or didn’t even know they existed :-) . The one with the best vantage point is at Via Piella. There is even a window cutout for a serene view.
- Palazzo Carrati: For a brief moment in time, a teenage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart studied in Bologna, under the tutelage of the Giovanni Battista Martini (Padre Martini). Can l just say l had a few minutes of glee walking back and forth on the steps knowing at some point, Mozart actually walked on them. I pictured the neighbors groaning and cursing since the houses were so close to each other..like.. “oh no, not that f*****g song again” ! :-) .
The other touristy things to see in Bologna include:
Piazza Maggiore Bologna:
Basilica di San Petronio:
The very heart of Bologna. It was the central market place of the city, beginning in the 13th century. It is still a popular gathering place for the locals and of course tourists. There are plenty of restaurants and bars to just chill and people watch. Unfortunately, the fountain of Neptune was closed for remodeling :-( . There are a couple of palaces quite close by. What l loved most about the city was just walking around and seeing all the plaques on the really old buildings. Some built before Columbus discovered America!!! Imagine that! And they are still standing too. Why can’t they build them like this anymore l ask you?
The Two Towers Bologna:
Bologna is thought to have had about 180 towers during the 12th and 13th century. Quite a lot for sure. The rich people were supposedly using them for defensive or offensive purposes during the power struggle between the church and the monarchs. There are few towers left, about 14 estimated. These two have become symbols of Bologna though. The taller one is called the Asinelli Tower (97m). The shorter, the Garisenda Tower (48m). They look kind of precarious to me, so I’m sure they will eventually collapse. We did not climb up.
Piazza Santo Stefano Bologna:
This little plaza was my favorite. It was quieter and the stones on the ground glistened. I wasn’t at all impressed with the church itself, but the piazza wowed me. It’s porticoes looked better somehow. The bricks, the design, everything just blended so well together. It was pleasant to have a drink and watch children playing. I loved this place.
Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi:
This was way more impressive on the inside than outside. It was on the same street as our hotel. We finally went in on the 3rd day and l am glad we did. Very lovely inside, especially the Holy Virgin statue. There was a service going on, so we tried not to intrude, but l would recommend a visit.
These are just some things to do in the city. Other best things to do in Bologna include visiting the Palazzo d’Accurcio, Basilica San Domenico, the Archinnginasio Bologna library, University of Bologna to name just a few.
Bologna City Guide to La Grassa (The Fat) : What to eat in Bologna, Italy
This needs no explanation :-) . I’ll just let the photos do the talking. We ate very well. I was surprised that most meals were pretty reasonable. A plate of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce averaged about $6.50, same for pizza. We splurged on dinners and it ran about $20 per person with beer. I am so completely spoiled that it really takes a lot for me to be impressed with Italian food. I do wonder if fat red refers to the rich food combined with the abundant red wine :-). I’m not even going to bother showing you gelato, as you know that Bologna has great gelato :-).
Bologna Guide To La Dotta (The Wise):
Bologna has the world’s first and oldest university. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088. It has such notable alumni such as Pope Alexander VI, Marconi (inventor of the radio), Giorgio Armani, Enzo Ferrari and the poet Dante. We unfortunately did not get to explore it. I would have liked to. The Law school was on the street we stayed at, but did not venture inside. Did l mention l was sick the last day of our visit and spent a good part of the day in bed? :-(. When you hear Red Bologna or Red Wise, you now know what it refers to.
Whether you spend 48 hours in Bologna, less or more, you’re sure to find something to hold your interest. Amazing day trips to wineries, maybe a tour of the Ferrari factory might be more to your liking? Overall, from our observations, we find the cost of living in Bologna to be less than in Rome and Florence, perhaps because it is a college town and a popular destination for Italians.
Overall, we really enjoyed our visit to Bologna and look forward to visiting it again at some point. Once school starts up in September, it will be more crowded, but l can’t imagine it would be “Rome crowded”. There are a higher number of refugees and immigrants there than you might expect. There were no problems that we saw on the surface, but every once in a while, there were sprayed signs on walls saying things that translate to “Let’s take our city back” or something similar and calls to come out and demonstrate. It leads me to think there is underlying resentment by some locals. This side trip in addition to the fabulous visit to the Borghese were the highlights of this Italian vacation. I would recommend a visit to Bologna as part of any Italy rough guide. You won’t be disappointed.
Is Bologna worth a visit?
The answer is most definitely yes!. Bologna is still one of the most pleasant cities in Italy. The best part is that you get a more authentic view of Italian life, there are so many ways to spend your time in Bologna. Most of the visitors are other Italians and it has not yet become another Venice so there is still lots of charm and no insane crowds. There is plenty to occupy your time in Bologna, and you can also do day trips to nearby cities such as Florence and Milan.
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What do you think of Bologna? Have you ever been to Italy? If not, would you like to go? Would it be for the culture or for the food? :-) What do you think of this Bologna guide and the Bologna city images? Do you have anything to add?