8 of the Best Things to Do in Bologna, Italy
An often overlooked Italian city, Bologna doesn’t get the recognition it very well deserves. A university city with a local feel and off the main tourist track, Bologna has the distinct ability to entice and draw you in. As soon as you arrive, you’ll soon realize that there’s no shortage of things to do in Bologna. You’ll be left hungry for more (figuratively and literally).
Things to do in Bologna
1. Admire the unique porticoes
The absolute first things you’ll notice about Bologna are the never-ending archways throughout the city. These “porticoes” were originally built to to accommodate the new influx of students at the university. They also served a dual purpose of providing shelter from the elements. Pure genius! Bologna has almost 25 miles (40 km) of porticoes, unlike any other city in the world! No wonder it was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Walk the 498 steps to the top of Asinelli Towers
Contrary to popular belief, the tallest leaning tower in Italy is located in Bologna, not Pisa. You really come to appreciate the beauty of Bologna when viewing it from above! The 15 minute climb to the top is exhausting, but well worth it.
Tip: The towers are open in the morning and evening, but close during the afternoon. Go right before sunset for the most spectacular city views. Cost is 3 euros. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes as the steps are extremely narrow.
3. Discover the secret canals of Bologna
Did you know that Bologna was built over a system of canals, much like Venice? One of the best things to do in Bologna is spend an afternoon trying to find these secret canals. A little tricky to spot at first, I was extremely excited to find a tiny window opening up to the canals, bearing an incredible view. Don’t come to Bologna and overlook this truly unique feature of the city.
Tip: This secret window is located on Via Piella Street right next to Trattoria dal Biassanot.
4. Hike up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
The cascade of stairs leading to the top of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is the longest archway in the world. It’s composed of 666 archways. These porticoes are a hallmark symbol to the city of Bologna.
Tip: The walk to the top is 2.4 miles (3.8 km) and well worth it. If you’re into fitness and good views, I definitely recommend checking this out.
5. Gain a few pounds sampling the tasty food
Although Bologna is a lesser-traveled to Italian city, it’s definitely well-known for its food. Home to tagliatelle, tortellini, mortadella, ragù, and of course Bolognese sauce, this city is a culinary lover’s dream. The meals are hearty, tasty, and made with local ingredients. Make sure to bring some stretchy pants while you sample all the variety the city has to offer. Bologna has some of the best food in Italy, hands-down.
6. Discover the local cozy cafes
Bologna is a great place to enjoy the variety of trendy cafes. My favorite spot is Opera Caffè e Tulipani. It’s drenched in Victorian decor and offers a great selection of wine, food, and tasty coffee. The best part is the outdoor patio that overlooks the secret canals. Also recommended is Naama Cafè, a tiny spot with a great vibe. It offers colorful Middle Eastern decor and music. This is where I had the best cappuccino in all of Bologna.
7. Indulge in daily aperitivo
Do you know about the Italian aperitivo? It’s like happy hour before dinner time. You buy one drink, and food is included. Never have I seen aperitivo celebrated so religiously as I did in Bologna.
Don’t miss: Cafè de la Paix charges 6 euros for one drink plus an unlimited buffet. The buffet specifically focuses on organic and gluten-free options so it’s also super healthy. Aperitivo is definitely the way to go in Italy, especially if you’re on a budget!
8. Visit the original anatomy lab at Bologna University
Bologna University, founded in 1088, is the oldest university in Europe. It’s also the oldest operating university in the world today.
Don’t miss: The anatomy lab is located in Archiginnasio of Bologna, part of the original Bologna University. For 3 euros, you can go inside and view the autopsy table they used for dissection classes. You can also see the original lecture hall. It’s a pretty cool experience. The building itself has exquisite architecture and is worth a visit to roam around the halls.
Plan your route: Bologna is the perfect location to embark on other less touristy places by train. You can reach the beautiful cliffside towns of Cinque Terre in 3 hours and 15 minutes, the romantic city of Verona in 52 minutes, and the dynamic city of Perugia in a little under 3 hours. To easily plan your route, use the helpful Eurail timetable.
After discovering all the amazing and unique things to do in Bologna, you might ask yourself, “How is this city not more popular?” Until then, sit back and enjoy this Italian gem before it gets discovered by the masses. To help plan your next Italian adventure, check out the Eurail Italy Pass.
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Italy itinerary (Eurail.com)