Top Things to Do in Bologna, Italy

Medieval Monuments and Top Notch Cuisine

A market street in Bologna

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Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. It's less than an hour inland from the east coast and about halfway between Florence and Milan. Bologna can be visited any time of the year although it may be pretty cold in winter and hot in summer

Bologna is an old university city with lavish porticoed walkways and squares, fine historic buildings, and an interesting medieval center. The city is known for its beauty, great cuisine, and left-wing politics –- home to the former Italian communist party and its newspaper, L'Unita. Because it's in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna, widely considered the greatest food-producing region of Italy, Bologna is nicknamed La Grassa – the fat one – which is also a play on the city's prosperous economy.

Getting to Bologna

Bologna is a transportation hub for several train lines with easy access to Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and both coasts. The historic center is a short walk from the train station but you can also take a bus. Most of the compact historic center is closed to traffic and is great for walking. There is good public transportation within the city and a small airport outside Bologna.

Food Specialties

Handmade egg pasta and stuffed pasta, especially tortellini, are specialties of Bologna and of course, there is the famous lasagna bolognese, and tagliatelle con ragu (a slow-cooked meat sauce). Bologna is also known for its salami and ham. The cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region is some of the best in Italy and Bologna is one of the best places to sample its range.

What to See and Do

  • Bologna's compact medieval center has several beautiful churches, monuments, and civic buildings. Its many porticoed sidewalks make for pleasant walking and window shopping.
  • Piazza Maggiore is one of the central squares, lined with arcades. It's a good place to sit at an outdoor cafe. Around the square are the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, the Palazzo dei Notai, and the Archaeological Museum.
  • Piazza del Nettuno, next to Piazza Maggiore, another of Bologna's main squares, has an ornate 16th-century fountain in the center and is surrounded by medieval civic buildings. Go inside the library and admire its beautiful interior.
  • Via Clavatura, east of Piazza Maggiore, has a number of small, interesting food stalls.
  • You can climb the steep staircase to the top of Torre degli Asinelli, one of only a few surviving medieval towers, for a great view of Bologna. Torre degli Asinelli and another leaning tower are in Piazza Porta Ravegnana where seven medieval streets converge.
  • In Piazza Santo Stefano also called Sette Chiese, you will find an unusual cluster of interlocking Romanesque churches. The oldest, the church of SS. Vitale e Agricola, has parts of Roman temples and columns. There is also an interesting courtyard with a maze of little chapels.
  • The Pinacoteca Nazionale is one of Italy's best galleries with several important works of art.
  • The University, one of Europe's oldest, is worth a visit. Palazzo Poggi has two interesting museums. Sometimes you will see student demonstrations or lively graduation celebrations.

Nightlife and Events

From aperitivo hour (about 6:30 - 7 PM) into the late night, Via Pescherie Vecchie, just off Piazza Maggiore, is lined with bars and restaurants offering outdoor seating, wines by the bottle of glass, tasty antipasti (appetizer) platters, and great people-watching. Mercato Delle Erbe, a foodstuffs market by day, becomes a lively nightlife destination after dark, with a bevy of restaurants and food stalls, surrounding a central dining hall.

Bologna has many summer entertainment options in July and August. There is a daily open-air disco in Parco Cavaioni on the outskirts of the city and the city-sponsored Bologna Sogna series, with concerts at museums and buildings around town. During the rest of the year, there is lots of nightlife for young people in the university area.

New Year's Eve is traditionally celebrated with the unusual Fiera del Bue Grasso (fat ox fair). The ox is decorated from horns to tail with flowers and ribbons and there's a procession that ends just before midnight in Piazza San Petronio, followed by fireworks. In Piazza Maggiore, there's live music, performances, and a street market. At midnight an effigy of an old man is thrown into a bonfire.

Tourist Information

Bologna's large tourist information office is at Piazza Maggiore, They have lots of maps and information about Bologna and the region. Two organizations give 2-hour guided walks in English from the tourist office. There are also small branches at the train station and airport.

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