Tucked between Florence and Venice, Bologna is an incredibly vibrant city renowned for its culinary traditions, architectural beauty, and historical significance. With its enchanting, UNESCO-listed medieval core, a bevy of cultural treasures and delectable gastronomy, the capital of Emilia-Romagna is one of the most rewarding cities to visit in Italy. It isn't nearly as popular with tourists as its most famous neighbours, yet this makes it even more appealing in many ways.
Bologna offers a living, breathing journey through Italy’s fascinating history and a glimpse of its more genuine, everyday life. Revered for being the epicentre of Italy's culture and knowledge for centuries, Bologna is one of the most respected cities in the country – one that many foreign tourists have yet to discover.
Why include Bologna on your next visit to Italy?
History & Architecture
Bologna is a city where the past and present seamlessly intertwine. Its origins date back over two millennia, and here you’ll discover a spellbinding historical centre that has remained remarkably preserved through centuries. Stroll through its delightful narrow laneways and heritage-listed porticos and be transported to a bygone era. Towering medieval buildings, such as the iconic Two Towers (which you can climb!), dominate the skyline, casting a mesmerising spell over the city. Bologna’s most revered architectural marvel, the grand Basilica di San Petronio on Piazza Maggiore, is its largest and most important church. It is home to the world’s longest sundial (67m in length), the brainchild of esteemed Italian astronomer Gian Domenico Cassini.
Knowledge & Culture
Whatever you do, don't miss the chance to explore the ancient University of Bologna, founded in 1088 and considered the oldest university in the Western world. Immerse yourself in knowledge as you wander through its historic halls and libraries. Take a self-guided tour focusing on the branch of knowledge that interests you most, or join a guided walking tour through the city’s university quarter to learn more about the incredible learning advancements made here.
Bologna is an epicurean paradise that will tempt even the most discerning foodies. Renowned throughout Italy for its culinary prowess, the city is the birthplace of many iconic Italian dishes. Indulge in a gastronomic journey as you savour the rich flavours of tagliatelle al ragù – the original Bolognese sauce – or delight in the velvety smoothness of tortellini in brodo, delicate pasta parcels bathed in a flavourful broth. A winter visitor’s staple but still worthwhile tasting in summer. For a foodie experience, bar none, head to Quadrilatero, a lively food market where vendors proudly display their bounty today as they have done for centuries. This is believed to be Italy’s oldest produce market! Lose yourself in the intoxicating aromas of freshly baked bread, cured meats, and local cheeses. Don't forget to sample Mortadella, the city's beloved cured meat, and raise a glass of the region's famous Lambrusco wine to toast to la bella vita.
Bologna's cultural heritage extends beyond its architectural wonders and culinary delights, as marvellous as both may be. Art enthusiasts will find themselves in a veritable treasure trove of classic masterpieces! Visit the Pinacoteca Nazionale, the city’s foremost art museum, which houses an extraordinary collection of Renaissance and Baroque art from the 1300s to the 1800s, featuring works by masters such as Raphael, Titian, and Carracci. For a dose of contemporary art, the MAMbo, Bologna's modern art museum, offers a compelling journey through the cutting-edge works of Italian and international artists. With its innovative exhibitions and thought-provoking installations, this museum is a testament to Bologna's forward-thinking and youthful spirit.
A Truly Genuine Italian Experience
What sets Bologna truly apart, in our eyes, is its authentic Italian vibe. Unlike its more famous (and touristy) neighbours, Bologna retains a sense of authentic local life that is sometimes hard to find in a country that’s almost loved to death by tourists. Here, you can lose yourself in the friendly atmosphere of the city's piazzas, where residents gather to socialise, sip an espresso, or simply watch the world go by. Do as they do! Take a leisurely passeggiata, an evening stroll along the elegant porticoed streets, and soak up the infectious energy that fills the air.
With its rich cultural heritage, delectable cuisine, and warm embrace of visitors, Bologna is an ideal destination for the discerning traveller looking for more than a cookie-cutter Italian experience.
Are you looking to get off the beaten path, just a little, on your next visit to Italy? Tell us if Bologna is now likely to make it on your must-see list!