What to see in Bologna

What to see in Bologna in 1 or 2 days

Tips for visiting Bologna la Dotta (or la Grassa or la Rossa) in one day

If Rome is the Eternal City  Venice La Serenissima  and Catania the Milan of the South , Bologna has three nicknames: La Dotta, La Grassa and La Rossa.

Home to the oldest university in the Western world – Alma Mater Studorium – ( La Dotta ), with a substantial and tasty traditional cuisine, it is no coincidence that ragù outside Italy is called “Bolognese” ( La Grassa ), characterized by red bricks typical of the Middle Ages that color the city, but also for its historical political orientation, ( La Rossa ), the three nicknames in fact summarize well the city which from a destination for away students has transformed into a national and international tourist hub , from Northern Italy. 

In the early 2000s, when Bologna was mentioned, the alternative university city came to mind, the DAMS – who knows if it still exists or has not evolved into one of the many new faculties – and the punkabbestia, who now seem to have disappeared from the streets, including via Zamboni .

Today Bologna is to all intents and purposes among the most beautiful and intriguing cities in Italy , in perfect balance between elegance, cultural liveliness and excellent gastronomic experiences.  
Among the many arcades, it seems that there are 40 kilometers of arcades throughout the city, ancient buildings, beautiful churches and interesting museums, Bologna is not only a very pleasant city but it is extremely welcoming. One more reason to pop into the city and enjoy it, which in the end, tortellini included, is certainly enjoyable. 

If it’s your first time in the city and you’re wondering what to see in Bologna in one day this post is for you! I have selected the places to see in Bologna in one day, the city is small, so as not to miss the best.

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Where to sleep in Bologna

The center of Bologna is quite small , it can be easily explored on foot or on a bicycle, so all the places of interest are quite close to each other, making it easier to organize your days to see Bologna calmly and without haste. The center offers a huge selection of hotels, B&Bs and hostels.

However, to go without fail I recommend you take a look at the Hotel Al Cappello Rosso , one of the oldest boutique hotels in the city, the Hotel Il Guercino , a very colorful hotel in an excellent location, the Steam House , with modern rooms and super comfortable, and the Dopa Hostel , which has shared but also private rooms. 

How to get around Bologna

The buses in Bologna work very well, you can buy bus tickets at Tabacchi, single tickets or 10-journey passes, but if you stay overnight in the center I doubt you need to take public transport. 
The rather limited center can be explored very well on foot or by bicycle. 
You can rent one at Dynamo , which is a club, cultural center and velostation. In short, it’s worth dropping in even just for a drink.

How many days do you need to see Bologna?

Bologna is a small city so if you have little time available and exclude visits to museums you can easily see it in one full day .

However, since in addition to being small it is really delightful to experience the streets of its center a little better, visit some museums and go beyond the usual tourist tours, I recommend you stay at least two nights.

Maybe you can take a lesson to learn how to make tortellini and other typical dishes of the region or, if you’re more to the point, a nice tour during which you eat and drink local delicacies in authentic places loved by the people of Bologna.
So in addition to knowing her as the Redhead and as the Learned one, you don’t miss seeing her in the Fat version of her.

bologna canal

Visiting the historic center of Bologna – Walking itinerary with map

With this walking itinerary you will discover all the places of greatest interest which summarize the most important places to see in Bologna.

If it is your first time in Bologna or you want to learn more about some aspects of the city I recommend taking part in a walking tour of the city centre . The tour is held in Italian and visits the main tourist places.
If you want to visit the city like the people of Bologna do, I recommend the Bologna bike tour (classic tour or the Street Art tour). If you want to do it yourself, here is a small walking itinerary that you can follow independently to see Bologna in one day.

Start the walk from Piazza Maggiore visiting Sala Borsa and the Basilica of San Petronio. Head to the Neptune fountain and continue towards the Voltone del Podestà.

Walk on via D’Azeglio and stop at the Lucio Dalla Foundation , reach the Archiginnasio , I recommend visiting the Anatomical Theatre.

Continue to the Quadrilatero , the oldest area of ​​Bologna with artisan tradition, and stop by the Mercato di Mezzo . Reach St. Stephen’s Basilica, also known as the 7 Church Complex . Watch out for the arrows in the portico of Palazzo Isolani. You have to look hard but I assure you they are there!

Reach the city’s two towers, Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda , and enter the former Jewish quarter .
A short distance away you will reach via Piella with the famous window overlooking the canal. Not far away, in case you want to raid pieces of Parmesan, stop at Regno della Forma, a small shop which, as the name suggests, specializes in wheels of Parmesan!

Curiosity – The wireless telephone in the vault
In the Voltone del Podestà , at number 1 of Piazza Maggiore between the old Palazzo Podestà and Palazzo Re Enzo, if you whisper something in one corner, a person in the opposite corner will hear what you said. This acoustic effect is called the wireless telephone. This place before becoming known for the acoustic effect was actually known as a place where hangings were carried out , you can see the beams where the ropes were attached. The wireless telephone seems to have been designed during the Middle Ages with the aim of making lepers confess while maintaining their distance from the priests, who positioned themselves on the opposite side. 

the 15 places to see and not miss in Bologna

I have selected the 15 places that anyone coming to Bologna, especially if it is the first time, should see. Most of these places are located in the center, and are part of the itinerary mentioned above. If you have more days then also include a visit to some museums.

Piazza Maggiore and the historic buildings

Piazza Maggiore has played an important role in city life since the Middle Ages.
In fact, popular festivals but also public executions (hangings and shootings) were held here and, in 1530, Charles V was crowned by Pope Clement VII.

In the square there are numerous important historical buildings. 
The Basilica of San Petronio , an unfinished basilica in Gothic style, the Palazzo del Podestà , which was the seat of the city government in the 13th century and today is used for cultural events, the Palazzo dei Banchi, the youngest of the buildings built to mask the streets of the market and whose name derives from the ancient presence of the currency exchange desks, the  Palazzo dei Notai , the oldest in the square and for 600 years the seat of the notary society and the Palazzo d’Accurso, which was the Town Hall and today houses collections of Fine Arts.

In this square you will also come across the Fountain of Neptune , the Giant, a work commissioned by Pier Donato Cesi, papal vice-legate in Bologna, to glorify the pontificate of Pope IV and with a mischievous peculiarity.

Size matters? Neptune and the optical effect
The statue of Neptune was promoted by the papal vice-legate of Bologna Carlo Borromeo,   it was designed and built by the collaboration between the Palermo architect and painter Tommaso Laureti, Zanobio Portigiani and  Jean de Boulogne from Douai , known as Giambologna. The latter was commissioned to create the bronze statue of Neptune. But there was an unexpected event. The cardinal forced Gianbologna to equip the statue with a small penis, believing that a proportionate one would attract too many malicious glances and impure thoughts. However, by accepting the request, Gianbologna thought of a stratagem to give poor Neptune back an uncensored penis . If you look at the statue from the side of the stairs of the Stock Exchange Hall you will notice how the thumb of the left hand looks like a huge erect pense.

The basilica of San Petronio

The Basilica of San Petronio is the largest church in Bologna and the great unfinished work that the people of Bologna are debating without having a certain answer. 

The Basilica, 132 meters long, 44.27 meters high and 60 meters wide, is one of the largest churches in Europe and the fourth largest in Italy.  

The interior of the church is in Gothic style with 3 naves, there are 22 chapels and is rich in works of  22 chapels  and see the works of numerous Italian artists, including the controversial work  Mohammed in Hell  by Giovanni da Modena. 
Also inside it is the  longest sundial in the world  built by the astronomer Domenico Cassini who realized that the motion of the planets depended on the sun.  

CURIOSITY – Why did the Basilica of San Petronio remain unfinished?
The construction of the Basilica of San Petronio is attributed to the Council of the Seventeenth Century and not to the Catholic church which, upon discovering that the project involved the construction of a church larger than St. Peter’s Basilica, was rather displeased.  Legend has it that to prevent the primacy of Saint Peter from being overcome, but it also seems that the idea that the largest church in the world was built by a city government and not by the Church itself was unacceptable, Pope Pius IV blocked the works.

Basilica Bologna

Sala Borsa and the Partisans’ Shrine

Sala Borsa is located in Palazzo D’Accursio , the historic seat of the Municipality of Bologna. 
Over the centuries, the palace has been many things: a botanical garden, a café, a popular restaurant and even a basketball court!

In 2001 it underwent its final transformation, becoming a library.
The renovation works have maintained the original architectural style, giving prominence to the excavations with the Roman remains which apparently belonged to the forum of Bononia .

Next to the entrance you will notice panels full of photos of people.
These are the partisans killed during the liberation struggle against the Nazi-fascist occupation. It was precisely on those walls that many partisans were publicly shot , a warning to those who passed nearby.
After the liberation, women began to attach photos of their killed loved ones, giving life to the Partisan Shrine which still reminds us of the atrocities of the Nazi-Fascist regime. 

The two Towers – Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda

The Asinelli tower with its 97.20 meters is the tallest medieval tower in Italy.
Between the 12th and 13th centuries in Bologna there were around 100 towers, today there are 22 left, the most famous are the Torre degli Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda (the crooked one), built respectively by the Asinelli family and the Garisenda family.

The reason why they were built is still uncertain, it seems that in that era the richest families used them as an instrument of defense and offense and also as a symbol of power.

Legend has it that a farmer who spent his days in the fields helped by two donkeys one day while digging in a piece of land, on which one of the donkeys seemed to have gone mad, found a trunk full of coins and precious stones. He called this treasure the “Donkeys’ treasure” .

He kept the treasure without telling anyone. One day his son falls in love with a middle-class girl. She declared herself but the woman’s father would only agree to the marriage if the young man managed to build the tallest tower in the city.

The farmer, learning of this condition, handed the treasure over to his son to immediately begin work on what is now the Torre degli Asinelli 

The Asinelli tower is open to the public and via 498 steps you can get to the top from where you can see Bologna and you can book entry here

CURIOSITY – Why does the Garisenda tower lean on one side?

Dante in the Inferno describes the tower thus:
As it seems when looking at the Carisenda,
Under the bent when a cloud passes Over
it so that it leans in the opposite direction:
This is how Antaeus seemed to me who was on the lookout
To see him bend… “

The slope of the tower was probably evident from its construction. The reason is due to the fact that towers of this type, tall and thin with a small base , unload the weight on a very small surface, exerting great pressure on the underlying portion of ground.
If the soil is clayey and rich in water, as in this case, it is unable to counteract the pressure exerted by the tower and the structure collapses.

Bologna Torre Asinelli

The quadrilateral of Bologna

The Quadrilatero of Bologna represents the artisanal and commercial heart of the historic center of the city. You enter directly from Piazza Maggiore, here you just need to walk through the small streets where the small traditional shops continue to offer excellent quality local products : from fruit and vegetables to freshly made pasta and typical Emilian products.

The small shops have retained their original furnishings, helping to make this patch of streets one of the most picturesque in the city.

Stop for a drink at the Osteria del Sole , the oldest inn in Bologna alive and well since 1465!.
Be careful that this is a tavern as it was understood in the past, you only drink wine and beer and if you want to eat something you can bring it from outside. No food is served.
Dogs are not allowed because, according to what is written on the sign outside, they do not drink wine!

Basilica of St. Stephen

St. Stephen’s Basilica is known in the city as the Seven Church Complex . The Basilica is in fact made up of 7 places of worship built in different eras. 
There are some hypotheses about its origins, the most accredited believes that the basilica was built by Petronius on the ruins of a temple with the intention of creating a reproduction of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem .
The Church of the Crucifix , the Church of the Calvary, the Church of the SS. Vitale ed Agricola and the Church of the Trinity , inside which there is the oldest nativity scene with life-size statues in the world. 

 Inside there is Pilate’s Courtyard and the Museum  which preserves paintings, sculptures and other works of art from various periods.

The arrows on the ceiling of Palazzo Isolani

At Palazzo Isolani, looking at the wooden beams of the portico, you will notice three arrows stuck in the ceiling. You have to look very carefully because they are hard to find, but I assure you they are there! Who put them? How did three arrows end up on the ceiling?
No one really knows how things happened but legend has it that the husband of an unfaithful woman hired men to kill her.
The woman, sensing her danger, showed herself naked to the bandits who, no longer understanding anything at the sight of her naked body, shot arrows at the wall without managing to kill the woman.
the stories about why these arrows are different, including the possibility that the meaning can be traced back to Freemasonry.

Via Piella and the window on the canal

Until a few years ago the window on Via Piella was a kind of hidden gem. It’s not anymore! But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t drop by, also because the Moline canal that you can see from that little window tells part of the history of Bologna.

In the Middle Ages, canals were very important for communications, so much so that some of these were even navigable.
The Moline Canal, the one you can see from the window in via Piella, played a very important role, managing to produce enough energy to move 15 water mills.

Take a coffee break or a light lunch at Caffè Opera e Tulipani , make sure you have a table on the terrace overlooking the canal.

The Archiginnasio

The Archiginnasio is one of the most important historic buildings in Bologna. The palace was commissioned by Pope Pius IV , when Piazza Maggiore was renovated, with the intention of creating a unique place to hold university teachings.
The building stopped being a university seat in 1803.

The Palace has two floors with porticoes and an internal courtyard. Particularly interesting is the anatomical theatre , a room designed for the study of anatomy, characterized by a coffered ceiling, fir wood benches, a chair on which stands a canopy supported by two statues of naked and skinless men, called the skinned ones.

At the entrance to the room there are the statues of Galen and Hippocrates. On the second floor there are the study rooms of the Legists and Artists (scholars of philosophy, mathematics, medicine and natural sciences).
Since 1838 the palace has housed the Archiginnasio Municipal Library .

The Portico of San Luca and the sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

The portico of San Luca which connects the center of Bologna with the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca on the Guardia hill, with its 3796 meters and 666 arches is the longest in the world.

The portico was initially cobbled in 1589 by the city government. Along the route the pilgrims used to hang images of the Mysteries of the Rosary on the trees , so in 1640 15 chapels were built.
With the increase in the number of pilgrims and to protect them from the rain, thanks to a fundraising committee, it was decided to build the very long portico.
Tradition has it that the ascent on foot is done because a grace has been received.

The museums of Bologna

I imagine that by reading this long post you realized that Bologna knows how to keep you busy for a few days, between walks and historic buildings. 
A culturally vibrant city like this cannot lack excellent museums.
If you have to choose I invite you to consider the following. 

MAMBO – Museum of Modern Art of Bologna – The museum is located in the former bread house and traces the history of Italian art from the Second World War to today. The venue also includes the Morandi Museum and House , the Museum for the Memory of Ustica , where the crashed plane was reconstructed with the original pieces, the Villa delle Rose and the Sandra Natali Artists’ Residence.

The National Art Gallery dedicated solely to the painters of the Emilian school of Emilian painting including Giotto, Parmigianino and Perugino

MAST Bologna , an international, cultural and philanthropic institution that spans Technology, Art and Innovation. The exhibitions and events are exceptional, the Anthropocene project is beautiful , keep an eye on current events and if you want to have a different experience consider popping in here. 

Bologna San Marco

Margherita gardens and greenhouses

The Margherita Gardens of Bologna are the largest and most beautiful Bolognese park in the city. The park extends over 26 hectares and is very popular on summer days when the heat is felt. 
The beautiful greenhouses, once abandoned and now re-evaluated, which serve as a cultural centre, bar, restaurant and coworking. Many events are held here, especially in the summer. For more information and to check scheduled events go to the  Serre dei Giardini Margherita website

Bologna and Motors – Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati

Bologna and its surroundings are home to some of the most famous car manufacturers in the world – Ferrari and Lamborghini – and the legendary Ducati. 

The houses have opened museums for enthusiasts who want to see the most famous models and learn more about their history.
Consider that they are quite far from each other and are not in the city center so if you want to visit them in one day I recommend you travel by car or you can take part in a day tour that includes transport from Bologna

In fact, if you want to see them you have to go to Maranello  to visit the Ferrari museum , to Sant’Agata Bolognese for the Lamborghini one and to Borgo Panigale for the Ducati one .

Ferrari Museum in Maranello and Test Drive

This museum is exceptional, spanning 2500 square meters and exhibiting some of the most beautiful and historic Ferrari models showcasing more than 90 years of Ferrari history.
I recommend combining the visit to the museum with a test drive in Maranello, a super exciting experience. 

Test drives last 10 or 30 minutes, depending on the package chosen and the cars to drive are the following:

Museo Lamborghini

The Lamborghini Museum has also become the Museum of Technologies which tells the story of the technologies that have made Lamborghini one of the most advanced and forward-looking cars. The museum is small, two large rooms, where the best of Lamborghini technology
is exhibited including: Diablo concept, Aventador, Veneno, Centenario and Urus.

The interactive experience with the driving simulator is beautiful. Reservation is mandatory and you can book it at this link .

Ducati Museum and Factory

A beautiful museum, which I recommend visiting in combination with the factory, which tells the story of the Bolognese stable. The motorcycle exhibition shows the production from the beginning and is organized in seven rooms:

  • The puppy
  • The Marianna family and Ducati Siluro 100
  • Ducati engines with bevel gear distribution
  • Single and Parallel Twin Cylinders Trialberi
  • The Pantah family
  • Ducati and the Superbike World Championship
  • The Desmosedici and the return to MotoGP

It is mandatory to book entry in advance on this site . If you want you can also book a test drive directly on this site.

What to eat in Bologna la Grassa

If they nicknamed it Fat Bologna, the reason is to be found among the culinary delights that cannot be resisted.
In addition to tortellini, lasagne and ragù, among other dishes to try I must mention crescentine , leavened and fried pasta, stuffed with cured meats, cheeses, pickles and pickles, gramigna with sausage and cream , Petroniana or Bolognese cutlet , composed of breaded loin of veal, garnished with raw ham and grated cheese and blended with meat broth (A MUST TRY), friggione , a delicious sauce based on white onions and peeled tomatoes, and passatelli , based on breadcrumbs, eggs and parmesan and are eaten in broth.

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