“Bologna is the best city in Italy for food and has the least number of tourists. With its medieval beauty, it has it all.” – Mario Batali
I agree, Mario Batali.
Bologna has three nicknames (and honestly, that should be enough to convince you to visit). It’s known as ‘la dotta’ or ‘the learned’ for Bologna’s university, one of the oldest universities in the world. ‘La rossa’ or ‘the red’ for the red-coloured bricks forming the town’s architecture. And ‘la grassa’ or ‘the fat’ for, well, the food.
In a country renowned for its rich food culture, any city nicknamed ‘the fat’ is a big yes from me.
Yet despite it’s drool-worthy food (which includes Parma ham, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar so sweet you can drizzle it on your gelato), Bologna remains surprisingly underrated.
Honestly, it’s hard to see why. Ok, the city may not have the tourist attractions of Florence or Rome. But Bologna has a fascinating history, beautiful architecture and an inviting laid-back vibe.
Though you could easily spend longer, one day in Bologna is long enough to fall in love with the city and stuff your face with tagliatelle ragu. Excited? Your tastebuds should be. Dive straight into this guide and start planning your perfect day in Bologna!
WHEN TO VISIT BOLOGNA
Summer in Bologna (mainly July and August) can be harsh and you may find some shops closed for holidays. Although Bologna doesn’t see the crowds of other Italian destinations, the best time to visit Bologna for milder weather is from April-June or September-October.
GETTING AROUND BOLOGNA
Bologna is a very walkable city, and unless you have specific requirements you should find it ok to get around on foot. (I visited all of the places in this guide on foot).
If walking isn’t your thing, Bologna also has an efficient bus system. Tickets can be purchased from tobacco stands, news stands or on board and single tickets start from €1.50. You can also purchase a 24-hour ticket for €6 or a 10-trip City Pass for €14.
One Day in Bologna: Planning the Perfect 1-Day Bologna Itinerary
Taste Bologna Food Tour
It’s time to discover if Bologna lives up to the coveted title of the ‘foodie capital of Italy’. (Spoiler alert; it totally does).
If you’re in Italy you’re no doubt already a fan of pizza, pasta and gelato. And if you’re not you should be; the food in Italy is damn good. Take your love of all things carbs a little further and start your day with a food tour with Taste Bologna.
The tour begins with a typical Italian breakfast; espresso. I tried the Caffe’ allo Zabaione, an espresso with egg custard and cocoa powder that tastes like Tiramisu. I tell you, I’m not a coffee drinker but that shot of deliciousness was almost enough to convert me.
Our tour also included a trip to the local markets, where our guide Elena showed us the produce grown in the region and we tasted sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Parmesan). We also made a stop at a pasta shop where we got to peek at skilled Italian women handcrafting pasta.
From there we popped back to the market to start assembling our picnic. And damn, what a picnic it was. Made up of tasty ragu sauce, fresh bread, slices of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano and strawberry grapes, this was one of the best meals we ate in Italy.
We did the Classic Tour and it cost €85 per person. If you’re wondering whether doing a food tour is worth it if you only have one day in Bologna, it is. Food is unquestionably what Bologna is known for, and doing a food tour will help you make the most of your time and taste the best of what the city has to offer.
Another of the top things you should do with your one day in Bologna is visit the city’s most important square, Piazza Maggiore. The square retains much the same appearance today as it had in the 14th century and is home to many important buildings.
Make sure to check out the impressive Basilica di San Petronio. Construction on the Basilica began in 1390 and it’s dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Petronious, the bishop of Bologna in the fifth century.
Piazza Maggiore also features one of Bologna’s most iconic symbols, the Fountain of Neptune. Though the water may or may not be flowing this 4-metre-high statue is striking. Car fans (which I am not) may wonder at Neptune’s trident, which is actually used as the logo for Maserati.
Finestrella di Via Piella
You’ve probably heard about the canals in Venice, right? I mean, duh.
But there’s another Italian city where the historic canals are somewhat harder to find. Bologna’s canals aren’t nearly as famous, and most of them have been covered and hidden by roads and buildings.
Today, it’s a not-so-secret secret that the best place to view Bologna’s canals is through the small ‘Canal Window’ on Via Piella. The window is located on an unassuming street but the crowd of tourists will show the way. It’s worth it, though; the view over Canale delle Moline is really quite picturesque.
Climb Asinelli Tower
While in Bologna you can’t miss checking out the city’s Two Towers. Legend has it that the towers were built by prominent families in the 12th century who competed to show who was the more powerful.
The smaller Garisenda tower (of the losing Garisenda family) is too dangerous to climb, but you can make your way up 100 metres of medieval stairs to the top of Torre degli Asinelli. Trust me, the view is worth the climb. The panorama of red rooftops below is impressive, and really show how Bologna earned the nickname ‘la rossa’.
There’s no ticket office but you can buy your tickets and select a time slot here. Tickets for Asinelli Tower are €5.
Read More: The Ultimate 3-Week Italy Itinerary
Check Out the Basilica Santo Stefano & Admire the City’s Porticoes
While the Basilica di San Petronio is the loveliest of Bologna’s cathedrals, Basilica Santo Stefano is also worth checking out.
This unique religious site was originally made up of seven churches, though only four remain intact today. Most of the buildings date from the 11th century and there are some interesting religious artefacts inside. (If that’s your kind of thing).
Outside Basilica Santo Stefano stands an example of one of Bologna’s famous porticoes. Together with its towers and tortellini, the porticoes are one of the major elements of the identity of Bologna. No other city in the world has as many porticoes as Bologna, and that’s a tittle coveted by locals.
All together the porticoes in Bologna run almost 40kms in length and most date back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Walking the city is a great way to discover some of these lovely architectural gems (*and find the best photo spots).
Where to Eat in Bologna
Hopefully that picnic lunch didn’t fill you up too much, because there’s a few restaurants you should make sure to check out in Bologna. Just don’t ask for Spaghetti Bolognese…
Visit Osteria dell’Orsa at any time and you’ll likely find a massive crowd. But there’s a reason; the food is damn good.
Get there early to snag a table and you’ll be rewarded with rich tagliatelle al ragu, tortellini and a variety of fresh pastas. The menu is all in Italian and the restaurant is a popular local joint, so go for cheap, delicious food and a great atmosphere.
Nearby to Osteria dell’Orsa, Annamaria serves up delicious pasta, (and this time you’re likely to grab a table). Though the decor is a little dated the ravioli cooked in butter and sage is incredible.
Osteria Al 15
I was greatly disappointed that Osteria Al 15 was closed when we were in Bologna, because everyone from our taxi driver to our guest house owner recommended it. It’s a little further out from the city centre but if you can, you should definitely go (and tell me about it).
Other Things to do if You Have More Than One Day in Bologna
Gelato Museum Carpigiani
If you have more than one day in Bologna you could venture a little outside of the city centre to the Gelato Museum Carpigiane.
The Gelato Museum is the world’s first museum dedicated to the history of artisan gelato, and damn, that already makes me want to visit. Make the most of your visit by doing a Gelato Masterclass, or join a guided museum tour and gelato tasting.
For more times and ticket prices check out the Gelato Museum website.
Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
If you haven’t had enough of Bolognese churches, the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca is another basilica that’s worth checking out.
Located 3.5km outside of the city centre, this hilltop basilica offers panoramic views of the city below. While there you could also check out the San Luca Sky Experience, a terrace offering 180-degree city and countryside views.
I didn’t expect to fall for Bologna the way I did, but there’s something about this Italian city that stole a piece of my heart and left me craving tortellini.
Sure, check out Florence and Rome. See the canals in Venice and fight the hordes of tourists in the Cinque Terre. But step just a little off the tourist trail into Bologna and you’ll discover a place that’s quite magical. One day is enough to explore Bologna, but I can guarantee you’ll want to go back.