Travellers who think with their stomach (like I do) might consider Bologna to be the ideal destination for a plate of spaghetti bolognese, but in fact this northern Italian city is home to many more things to do than simply eat! Bologna is a relatively small and very historical city, capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, and considered by many Italians to be one of their country’s most beautiful cities. If you are planning a short break to the city, here are some suggestions on things to do in Bologna during your stay.
The heart of Bologna is its Piazza Maggiore, the main square in the old town, which has plenty of famous buildings surrounding it, including the Basilica of San Petronio, the City Hall Building, the Portico dei Banchi and the Palazzo del PodestÃ . Scenic, historical and a good meeting and cafe place all at once, it’s a good place to centre your Bologna explorations.
Piazza Maggiore by night by Alessandro Capotondi
Tower of the Asinelli and Tower of the Garisenda
These two towers are often the main symbols of the town when you see Bologna in pictures. They both date back to the twelfth century and it’s possible to climb the Tower of the Asinelli.
View from the Tower of Asinelli by arj03
National Picture Gallery
Bologna’s National Picture Gallery is home to the most important local art and masterpieces from other parts of Italy too, and includes works by Raffaello, Giotto and Parmigianino. Do note that it’s usually closed on Mondays.
Fontana di Nettuno
The Fontana di Nettuno or Fountain of Neptune is another frequently-seen symbol of Bologna, and was built back in 1563. It’s an almost over-the-top representation of King Neptune surrounded by angels and fish.
Towering Neptune statue by Enrico Maioli
As a major university town, Bologna’s University Quarter is usually buzzing. With plenty of young people around there are numerous trendy cafes, bars and nightclubs to enjoy. But on the more intellectual side – after all, the University of Bologna is the oldest university in Europe – there are also some interesting museums within the campus, including the Naval Museum, the Museum of European Students, the Obstetric Museum and the Museum of Military Architecture – pretty much something for all tastes!
Statues at the University of Bologna by Meanest Indian
Basilica di San Domenico
The Basilica di San Domenico is one of Bologna’s most famous churches, and you can also visit the attached convent. Tourist guides will keenly tell you that Mozart played the organ here on a few occasions!
Bologna Museum of Modern Art
The Bologna Museum of Modern Art, also known by its trendy Italian abbreviation of MAMbo, has existed as an independent museum only since the 1980s and recently moved to brand new premises. Featuring art quite different from Bologna’s traditional galleries, it also offers performances and multimedia events.
Bologna’s Archaeological Museum, or Museo Civico Archeologico, includes artifacts from both ancient Egypt and the Roman era and is housed in an old hospital – what’s more, entry is free.
Artifact at the Archaeological Museum by Mike Knell
Ducati, Lamborghini and Ferrari Museums
Within Bologna or nearby, there are three very important stops for car and motorbike obsessed travellers: the Ducati Museum, the Lamborghini Museum and the Ferrari Museum; there’s also the Bologna Motorshow if you time your trip correctly. The Ferrari Museum includes a special Formula One exhibition. If you’d like to visit several museums in one day, book a taxi in Bologna to travel between the museums.
Gold Lamborghini at the museum by Blosterblu
Cooking Schools and Food Factory Tours
Given our obsession with spaghetti bolognese, it is hardly surprising that food-related tourist attractions are widespread in Bologna. There are numerous cooking schools where you can learn to make great pasta and sauces, and also tours of various factories producing Italian wine, vinegar, cheese and of course pasta. Incidentally, I’m told that spaghetti bolognese is not a traditional food of Bologna – they use the bolognese sauce on tagliatelle or in lasagne!
Tagliatelle al ragu by WordRidden
Guides to Other Cities in Italy
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More Things to Do in Italy
We’ve plenty more tips for things to do in Italy on Europe a la Carte.