The best part about Italy? I mean... if you're asking me- it's hard to say. Every part, region and town is so different that it's almost impossible to pick something that sums it all up. Bologna though, is truly one of my favourite Italian paradises. Falling somewhere between a city and a charming town, there is really something for everyone here, but if you've not got much time... here's how to see the best bits in 24 hours.
WARNING: The following blog post will contain cringey pictures of the author and friends.
What to see
Bologna is home to some of the most beautiful and breath-taking architecture in Italy. The central streets are mainly arched - which is great in the blistering Italian heat - and authentic in every way. On your trip to Bologna one thing is for sure... you will be spoilt by where to look.
Università di Bologna
I mean, ye... I know that you're on holiday and really don't want to study or even think about studying, but you seriously have to check this place out.
Photo credit: Patrick Baum on Unsplash
Established in 1088, The Università di Bologna (The University of Bologna) is the oldest university that is still running in the world. The building itself is nothing short of spectacular and is truly in keeping with the rest of the city's beautiful and well-conversed architecture.
Whilst you're there you need to check out the Biblioteca Universitaria which was opened to the public in 1756 and still running as a salvage place/ last minute assignment haven for students and visitors a like.
Fontana di Nettuno
Now, I don't know about you, but I love a good fountain, and even if you don't, this is the exception. Located in the beautiful and central Piazza Maggiore, which I will get to later, the Fountain is right in the heart of the city and is one that you'll struggle to miss. Due to its great architecture and many dimensions the bologneses give it the loving name 'Il gigante// al Żigànt' (the big one), and here they weren't wrong- it is a very big statue.
The fountain itself was finished in 1565 and Neptune later graced its presence in the following years, so ye... this fountain is very old and very Italian.
Interesting fact: The Fountain served as inspiration for the Maserati brothers when designing their logo for their first ever car.
Speaking of the devil...
Katie posing in the Piazza.
Apart from the fountain, this piazza is home to various other prestigious buildings that had, or still have, either a religious or administrative function. All the buildings have their origins in the 15th century and have been carefully maintained to still reflect the glory and aesthetic of the age, before Italy became the nation that we know it as today.
The piazza is one of the most central of squares in Bologna and often is host to a number of important events and protests. So, if you do decide to pass through, you'll be more than likely to see or experience something cool and relevant.
However, it's not all serious and actually can just be a great place to get a coffee and admire the architecture- it'll all about the little, simple things in life sometimes.
What to do
Now, all the beautiful buildings mentioned above are a great symbol of the city and can really all be captured with a brisk or tranquil walk around the city. However, Bologna does have a lot more to offer than just a few (extremely) beautiful and history-packed buildings, and there are a lot of hands-on and chilled activities that you can do within your 24 hour stopover in this stunning city.
Open air cinema
For various days during the summer months Sotto le stelle del Cinema (Under the stars of the cinema) hosts a film festival in Piazza Maggiore (the previously mentioned stunning piazza).
With a wide range of films from various countries and cities, there are plenty in all languages and many that come subtitled as well, so there really is something for everyone. Although this is a seasonal attraction, it doesn't mean that it is not spectacular, and over the course of the summer there are over 50 films screened.
So why not grab a drink and take a seat in front of the big screen in one of the most breath-taking locations that you'll ever watch a movie in in your life? - Nothing else will compare afterwards.
Make sure you check out the dates and screenings before booking your trip!
Now, up until now, you may have recognised that Bologna has a lot of history, and it has been really well preserved through its architecture and how the city is reflected.
The museum itself was officially opened as a museum in 1985, but its foundations were laid in 1881. The building though, on the other hand, like many of the historical buildings in the city, dates as far back as the 15th century.
The contents of the museum, as you may have guessed, is devoted to the medieval times and traces back over the history of the city and the nation. With great artefacts and guided tours offered in both English and Italian, this is definitely a must-see attraction.
On top of that, entry is also cheap and cheerful given that full entry is only €5 or €3 for those eligible for any applicable discounts (visitors over 65 or between 18 to 25).
This is really one of my personal favourites, as I love all things modern art. So if you're like minded, MAMbo, Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna (Museum of Modern Art in Bologna), will not disappoint you. With over 9,000 square metres of modern art you'll really need to dedicate a bit of time to explore and appreciate the modern wonders that are housed in this beautiful institution.
Home to some of Italy's most beautiful and/or thought provoking pieces from post-world war II, the gallery also has a range of exhibitions and a large variety of paintings that come in and out. So, if you're thinking of passing through again, it's almost guaranteed not to be the same.
One thing that Bologna is not short on, are markets. If you're like me and love a good market, you'll be absolutely spoilt for choice.
Here over the weekend? Check out: Mercato "La Piazzola di Bologna"
Held outside in Piazza dell Otto Agosto on a Friday and Saturday, here you'll be able to find lots of cheap goodies and bargains from everyday items to authentic artisan creations. It'd almost be criminal not to take advantage.
In the market for some food? I mean, after all, you are in Italy. Mercato di Mezzo, literally the middle market, is an authentic food market that branches over 3 storeys. Here you can buy authentic Bolognese food and Italian treats alike. This market is said to be one of the most culturally representative establishments of the region's food culture. So you'll be leaving with a full belly and a full heart.
Mercato delle Erbe was originally opened in 1910 but was forced to close as a result of the war. After the outbreak and tragedy ended, the market reopened in 1949 and has since transformed into a delightful food court. So, if you fancy a nibble and wander in a beautiful place (yes please), this is the place for you.
If you have a few more than 24 hours and manage to see what you came to see within that time, you can always branch a bit further fetched and head out on a day trip.
Ferrara is located a mere 50 kilometres (just over 30 miles) from Bologna and is reachable by train in half an hour.
Posing in Ferrara Castle
Ferrara is a small town just located outside of Bologna- which I'd never heard off until deciding to go on a spotaneous trip there last June. The town has plenty of stunning architecture and is just easy to walk around and absorb.
It is also home to the oldest wine bar in the world, so if you're a wine lover, it'll be really hard to say no to this journey. Al Brindisi, is thought to have been established in 1435 and has been running ever since and attracts guests and tourists from all over the world. That's 600 years of wine drinking, I'll cheers to that.
One of the greatest things about Bologna is that they don't mess around when comes to food, and one thing is for sure; egg pasta is king.
Typical dishes of the region generally include:
- Tagliatelle al ragù (egg pasta with a rich meat sauce)
- Lasagne bolognese
- Tortellini in brodo (wrapped pasta in a meat broth)
- Tortelloni con salvia e burro (wrapped pasta with sage and butter)
Mercato della Terra
Mercato della Terra, literally the Earth Market, is a lovely little farmers' market that takes place in Cortile della Cineteca. With a wide range of great eats, bargains and drinks, you really have all the precious gems of Italian artisanal culture here.
Hosted on a Monday evening this is a great place to go for dinner, a drink or even just a little snack outdoors. Eating here you'll truly get the whole experience.
Trattoria del rosso
Whilst we've been talking about how Bologna has really preserved its character and history over the centuries, we have to note that this is no exception when it comes to dining.
Known as the eldest restaurant in Bologna, Trattoria del rosso is rumoured to have been feeding the hungry locals and visitors since 1860. The menu is classic Italian with all fresh homemade pastas, breads and locally sourced meats, and won't break the bank. So, it's really a win win all round if you ask me.
Trattoria Anna Maria
Now, on the other hand- authentic Italian food can mean various different things, but to find out the true definition (i.e. what is really meant by the word), Trattoria Anna Maria is the place to visit.
This authentic, little restaurant is located just outside of the ghetto ebraico (The Jewish neighbourhood) and specialises in cucina bolognese (food specific to the region). Therefore, here you don't just get the full Italian experience, but you can really enjoy the best bites from the region.
Just to top it all off, the joint is self-named and run by the hostess Anna Maria who makes the most delicious ragú going. This truly is a spot not to be missed on your 24-hour spint in Bologna.
Although it may not be such a traditional Bolognese dish it's hard to write a blog post guide to an Italian city without mentioning it. Yep, that's right, you guessed it... it's PIZZA! Spacca Napoli is arguably the best place to get a pizza in Bologna. Measuring more than the circumference of your head, you won't be able to go back for seconds- even though you'll really want to.
Me looking mesmerised by my pizza and wine.
Fancy a light bite? No worries, one would be enough to share with a lovely little side of bruschetta.
Cremeria Santo Stefano
Now, there are few things in life that I am serious about and able to commit to, one of them is work and studying and the other is dessert. Yes, you read that right, I honestly just put my career and success on a par with dessert- that's how amazing it is.
So, when in Bologna, my top priority of course was sourcing the best desserts going. Cremia Santo Stefano is an award-winning Gelateria that puts Bologna on the map for desserts. With seasonal and exciting new flavours coming in on a weekly-monthly basis, you'll be spoilt for choice once you get here... I know I was!
And after food?
The night is still young, and after all, you are in Bologna. So, after dinner you needn't return to the hotel, hostel or whatever accommodation you are staying in. Keep reading for some great, simple suggestions of how you can let the night continue, whether it be into the early hours or not.
Terrazza Mattuiani, Hotel Touring
Unfortunately, rooftop terraces are hard to come by in Bologna, especially in the colder months. However, during the summer, Hotel Touring opens up its terrace to the public for food and drink.
With a stunning 360-degree view of Bologna, you won't just get to catch the rays from above with a beverage, but you'll also get a truly breath-taking view of the city itself.
We all have guilty pleasures. Soda Pops is like the living embodiment of all things guilty pleasures compiled into a club.
Located right in the heart of Bologna, this is a great destination after dinner and a few drinks. It is also very popular with Erasmus students and young locals alike and is a youthful club that plays current popular music where you can go for a cheeky little sing-along to your hearts content.
Kinki Club is the oldest club in Bologna. After opening its doors for the first time in 1958, it is still running and has an extensive history that branches through the trends and the characters of the past few decades. Originally opened as "Whisky a Go Go", it is safe to say that over the years Kinki has been reinvented quite a few times and has a flexible image that reflects its long and proud history in the night club industry.
Attracting a broad and wide-range of clients, Kinki can definitely be described as an inclusive place for everyone kind of establishment. Whatever your type and whatever your scene, Kinki Club is sure to be an experience at least, and hey even if not, go for the history!
Numa Restaurant & Ballroom
This may be your classic restaurant by day, but by night it transforms into one of Bologna's biggest dance halls.
With a Saturday night completely devoted to Reggaeton and Hip Hop, you can really make Shakira proud and get those hips moving here. This is a great spot for people that really like to dance and are less concerned with the drinkng element of a night out (even though that is very well catered for too here).
If clubbing isn't quite your scene, that's not enough of a reason to go home. After all, the night is still young. Why not check out Arterìa?
One of Bologna's worst-kept, best-kept secrets, Arterìa is an underground music venue that hosts live music events on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. Held in an informal setting is great place to watch some of the local upcoming talent, from rappers to rockers, there is bound to be something for everybody as well.
So, no matter how little or much time you have in Bologna, there is plenty to do and see, and with the help of this guide you can tailor your whole trip around the Bologna that you want you want to explore and experience.
Header photo credits: Thaddeus Lim on Unsplash