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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Porticoes

Things to do in Bologna Italy | The unique porticoes.

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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | View from Asinelli Towers

Things to do in Bologna Italy | View over Bologna from the top of Asinelli Towers.

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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Canal

Things to do in Bologna Italy | A secret window to Bologna’s hidden canals.

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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Things to do in Bologna Italy | The archways leading to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.

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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Food

Things to do in Bologna Italy | A sample of the local Bolognese produce.

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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Cafe

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Cappuccino in 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!

Things to do in Bologna | Embrace Italian aperitivo

Things to do in Bologna | Indulge in daily Italian aperitivo.

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.

Things to do in Bologna Italy | Archiginnasio of Bologna, Italy

Things to do in Bologna Italy | The Archiginnasio of Bologna, which holds the anatomical theater.

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.

You might also like:
4 cities in Italy to beat the crowds: The Umbria region
Get off the beaten track in Italy
Italy: Top 10 Cities To Visit By Train
Italy itinerary (Eurail.com)