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top five guide: bologna, italy

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Orange roofs overlooking Bologna Italy

Bologna is a tragically underrated Italian destination. We spent six weeks living out our Italian dreams in Bologna, setting it as the first stop of our "adult gap year" and using it as a home base to travel across a good portion of central and northern Italy. Our time there only solidified my deep love of this beautiful city, home to the best Italian cuisine (yes, I said it), the world's oldest university, and a more local Italian feel than you might find in more tourist-friendly cities like Florence or Milan. My sincerest hope is that this guide may prompt you to consider adding Bologna to your Italy itinerary, even if it is just a day trip from Florence.

Here are my top five tips for a trip to Bologna:

Stacked parmigiano reggiano cheese parmesan wheels emilia-romagna italy

1: food tour

If you love Italian food, you will adore Bologna. This city lies in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, known as the culinary capital of Italy and where international delights like parmigiano reggiano cheese, proscuitto, balsamico, bolognese (tagliatelle al ragù), tortellini, lasagne, and mortadella come from. Can we just appreciate that all-star roster for a second? It should go without saying that my top recommendation is embarking on a food experience of some sort. There are many options, but the Italian Days Food Experience with Alessandro is truly top of the line.

Piazza Maggiore cathedral Bologna Italy 2022

2: piazza maggiore + beyond

If you’re looking for the heart of Bologna (and a good location to start your hotel search), Piazza Maggiore is it. The focal point of this large and lively square is the beautifully unfinished Basilica di San Petronio, and nearby you can find the Fountain of Neptune. This piazza is a wonderful place to observe and engage in the modern Italian way of life, and from here there are plenty of charming, meandering streets the branch off from this main square. Don't miss a walk down Via Pescherie Vecchie, home to open air markets and great food stores/delis for souvenirs or a snack.

Aperitivo Bologna Italy 2022

3: aperitivo

Aperitivo is a big deal in this town, and summer nights in particular are buzzing with people enjoying their pre-dinner drink and snack starting at around 7pm. One of the most enjoyable ways to spend an evening is quite simple: find a pleasant table in a lively area, order some cheap (4-5€) aperol spritzes, and do a bit of people watching. You'll be shocked to see hardly any cell phones in sight, which is almost more refreshing than the spritzes. My favorite areas for aperitivo are Piazza Santo Stefano and just behind Mercato delle Erbe (pictured; also a great place for a quick lunch or snack earlier in the day).

Tagliatelle Bolognese Pasta Restaurant Bologna Italy

4: restaurant recs

As a self-proclaimed foodie, what I loved about living in Bologna is that you really have to TRY to find bad food (we never found it). I have never traveled somewhere with such a high concentration of truly quality restaurants, so no need to stress over Google or TripAdvisor reviews. That said, here are my favorite spots to keep you well fed at every time of day: Aroma Coffee for breakfast, Pizzeria Vesuvia or Tamburini for lunch, and Da Cesari, Da Bertino, or La Taverna di Roberto for dinner. Finish the day strong by savoring the best gelato in ALL of Italy at Cremeria La Vecchia Stalla.

Due Torre two medieval towers Bologna Italy 2022

5: porticoes and towers

Bologna's architecture is a bit more subtle and less well known compared to Italian heavyweights like Florence’s Duomo or Rome’s Colosseum. That said, this orange-tinted city is famous for its extensive system of porticoes. These intricately tiled, covered sidewalks extend across most of the city and are just as much practical as they are pretty: the shade they provide in the summer heat is a true gift, let me tell you. Another can't miss architectural sight (really, you can't miss them) are a few still-standing towers dating back to the medieval era known as Due Torre.

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.


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