Things To Do in Bologne (Italy): The Best of Emilia-Romagna

O que fazer em Bolonha: ver as torres medievais.
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2024-05-21

Discover What to Do and Visit in Bologna This Year, The Best Things To Do in the Capital of Emilia-Romagna.

In this guide, which aims to be as comprehensive as possible, I include must-see suggestions for exploring the city, accommodation, restaurants, transportation, and other relevant information to help you organize your trip.

Start by marveling at the grandeur of Piazza del Nettuno, where the impressive sculpture of the god of the sea dominates the scene.

Continue your journey to the iconic Towers of Bologna, historical symbols of the city. For moments of relaxation, Piazza Maggiore is the perfect place.

Don’t miss the climb to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of San Luca, situated atop a hill, and of course, you can’t miss the opportunity to try the authentic ragù, known as Bolognese sauce.

In addition to activity suggestions, this guide also offers practical travel advice, such as accommodation suggestions and essential information about safety and getting around the city.

Learn how to get from the airport to the city center, find out how much time to dedicate to your visit, and explore whether renting a car is advisable.

Prepare yourself for an unforgettable trip, discovering the charms of Bologna and exploring its rich cultural and gastronomic heritage with me in 2024.

Best Things to Do and See in Bologne, Italy

Fontana Vecchia, ou Fonte Velha, construída em 1563  para evitar quue as pessoas retirassem água da Fonte de Neptuno, bem como para os merceeiros do mercado da Piazza Maggiore aí lavassem os seus vegetais.
Fontana Vecchia, or Old Fountain, was built in 1563 to prevent people from drawing water from the Fountain of Neptune, as well as to provide a place for the grocers of the Piazza Maggiore market to wash their vegetables.
Arquitetura em Bolonha.
Architecture in Bologna. Things to do in Bologne.
Torre Lambertini, no centro de Bolonha.
Lambertini Tower, in the center of Bologna.
Torre do Relógio no Palazzo d'Accursio.
Clock Tower at the Palazzo d’Accursio.

Explore Neptune Square and discover the ‘trick’ of the God of the Sea

Praça de Neptuno, ou a Piazza del Nettuno.
The Historic Piazza del Nettuno: A Treasure of Bologna.
Fonte de Neptuno, e m Bolonha.
Neptune Fountain in Bologna.
Detalhe da Praça de Neptuno, em Bolonha.
Detail of Neptune Square in Bologna.

The historic Piazza del Nettuno, or Neptune’s Square, is a true treasure of the city, one of Bologna’s symbols, with its focal point being the famous Fountain of Neptune, or La Fontana del Nettuno. Its’ one of the best things to do in Bologne.

This sculpture is a 16th-century masterpiece carved by Giambologna, a renowned Flemish sculptor of international acclaim.

The Fountain of Neptune is a depiction of the god of the seas, featuring an imposing central bronze statue surrounded by majestic mermaids, whose delicate forms spray water into the air.

Locally known as “Il Zigànt,” or the Giant, this sculpture is one of Bologna’s most iconic attractions and a must-see landmark for all visitors.

Few people know about the secret or trick of this sculpture. If you stand on the black stone, known as the Pietra della Vergogna (Stone of Shame), at the foot of the Biblioteca Salaborsa’s steps, you will notice that the statue’s hand changes Neptune’s dimensions.

It’s an optical illusion that few tourists are aware of, and I believe it should be on your list of things to do in Bologna.

Additionally, Piazza del Nettuno is surrounded by cafes and restaurants where you can relax and enjoy an authentic Bolognese experience while soaking up the unique energy of this historic site.

See the Towers of Bologna

As torres de Bolonha: Torre degli Asinelli e Torre Garisenda.
Best Things to do in Bologne: see the Asinelli Tower and the Garisenda Tower.
O que fazer em Bolonha: ver as torres medievais.
What to do in Bologna: see the medieval towers.
As torres inclinadas em Bolonha, Itália.
The leaning towers in Bologna, Italy.
Ver as Torres de Bolonha.
See the Towers of Bologna. Things to do in Bologne.

The majestic Towers of Bologna, known as Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda, are two historical landmarks of the city.

These towers, although similar, were built in different periods.

Thus, the Torre degli Asinelli, with its impressive 97.2 meters in height, is the tallest medieval tower in the world.

Climbing its 498 steps is a true challenge, but the panoramic view from the top makes all the effort worthwhile.

Construction of this tower began in 1109 and was completed in 1119, initially serving as a defensive structure and later as a symbol of prestige for the powerful Asinelli family.

Next to the Torre degli Asinelli is the Torre Garisenda, significantly shorter at approximately 48 meters in height.

Originally, this tower was nearly as tall as its neighbor, but due to ground instability and consequent leaning, it was partially reduced in height in the 14th century.

In other words, Torre Garisenda is known for its pronounced lean, which reaches 3.2 meters!

Located in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, these towers are easily accessible and a must-visit stop for anyone visiting Bologna.

Relax in Piazza Maggiore and watch an outdoor (free) movie

O que fazer em Bolonha: conhecer o Palazzo d'Accursio, na Piazza Maggiore.
What to do in Bologna: visit the Palazzo d’Accursio in Piazza Maggiore.
Estátua de bronze do Papa Gregório XIII no Palazzo d'Accursio (Piazza Maggiore).
Bronze statue of Pope Gregory XIII at the Palazzo d’Accursio (Piazza Maggiore).

Piazza Maggiore, located in the heart of Bologna’s historic center, is the city’s main square and a perfect place to relax and soak in the city’s atmosphere.

This spacious public square is surrounded by historic buildings, whose facades offer a glimpse into Bologna’s grand past, such as the Palazzo d’Accursio (City Hall), featuring a bronze statue of Pope Gregory XIII on the facade.

You can simply stroll around Piazza Maggiore or enjoy a coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes.

Alternatively, I recommend dedicating some time in your itinerary in Bologna to admire the breathtaking view of the Basilica of San Petronio, which is one of the largest churches in the world.

O que fazer em Bolonha: visitar a Basílica de São Petrónio, a 15ª maior igreja católica do mundo.
What to do in Bologna: visit the Basilica of San Petronio, the 15th largest Catholic church in the world.
Cinema ao ar livre em frente à Basílica de São Petrónio. Visitar Bolonha no verão.
Outdoor cinema in front of the Basilica of San Petronio. Visit Bologna in the summer.
O que fazer em Bolonha: visitar o Palazzo del Podestà.
What to do in Bologna: visit the Palazzo del Podestà.

However, during the summer, Piazza Maggiore transforms into an outdoor cinema.

So, can you imagine yourself watching classic and contemporary films under the starry sky, surrounded by the grandeur of the illuminated historic buildings in the historic center of Bologna while savoring gelato? I think you would enjoy the experience!

Moreover, the square is often the venue for cultural events, concerts, and markets. Not far from the square, you will find the Palazzo del Podestà, the Palazzo d’Accursio, and the Fontana del Nettuno, each with its own rich history.

Learning about the anti-fascist resistance that took place in Bologna

Santuário aos partigiani mortos em Bolonha.
Shrine to the partisans killed in Bologna. Things to do in Bologne.
Memorial à resistência antifascinta em Bolonha.
Memorial to the anti-fascist resistance in Bologna.

The Sanctuary to the Fallen Partisans, located in Neptune Square (Piazza del Nettuno), is a memorial honoring the anti-fascist resistance in the city.

The sanctuary consists of hundreds of photographs of men and women who participated in the resistance. These images, with inscribed names, reveal the personal stories of the partisans who fought and died for freedom.

This memorial is located on the wall used for executions by the Nazi-fascists. The first tributes were spontaneously created by family and friends of the victims, who wanted to preserve their memories.

Over time, local authorities supported the initiative. Additional information about the anti-fascist struggle was incorporated, enriching the memorial.

According to official information, among nearly 15,000 partisans, 2,059 were killed. Additionally, 2,350 were executed, and 829 died in concentration camps.

In other words, this struggle left deep scars: 945 partisans were injured in combat, and 6,543 were arrested.

Climbing up to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of San Luca (Santuario della Madonna di San Luca)

O que fazer em Bolonha: visitar o Santuario della Madonna di San Luca.
Things to do in Bologne: visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of San Luca.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of San Luca, locally known as Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, is one of the most emblematic destinations in Bologna.

It is located on the Colle della Guardia promontory.

This Marian sanctuary is a place of pilgrimage and devotion, offering not only a spiritual experience but also stunning panoramic views of the region.

To reach the sanctuary, you can follow the road that connects the center of Bologna to this location.

The road starts at Porta Saragozza, where a path begins that passes through a historic portico.

This portico, construction of which began in 1674, is a masterpiece of architecture with its 600 arches, making it the longest in the world, extending for approximately 4 km.

Upon reaching the top, the sanctuary reveals itself in all its glory.

The Santuario della Madonna di San Luca is a majestic structure that houses a revered image of the Virgin Mary behind its doors.

In addition to its religious significance, the sanctuary’s location offers an impressive panoramic view from the terrace, situated 42 meters above the Colle della Guardia hill.

Therefore, set aside some time for this memorable walk and allow yourself to be inspired by the beauty and tranquility of this sacred place.

Try the ragù, or Bolognese sauce

Tagliatelle al ragu. Restaurantes em Bolonha, Itália.
Tagliatelle al ragù. Restaurants in Bologna, Italy. Things to do in Bologne.
Viajar com crianças para Bolonha. Jantar de Lasanha au ragù.
Traveling with children to Bologna. Dinner of lasagna with ragù.
Onde comer em Bolonha: entrada leve de pão torrado com tomate e azeite.
Where to eat in Bologna: light appetizer of toasted bread with tomato, arugula, and olive oil.
Cannoli alla siciliana.
Cannoli alla siciliana.

For weeks, my children only talked about eating spaghetti Bolognese. They were eager to try the famous Italian dish in Bologna.

When we arrived, we realized that the people of Bologna prefer lasagna or tagliatelle instead of spaghetti. And they call the sauce “ragù”.

Ragù has a long history, dating back to the 18th century. Originally, it was a meat sauce prepared to accompany pasta dishes at parties and special occasions.

In 1982, the traditional recipe for ragù alla Bolognese was registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, preserving the authenticity of this emblematic dish.

On restaurant menus, we often found “Tagliatelle al ragù”. The dish is truly delicious! and our experience was fantastic. The ragù is rich and flavorful, perfectly complementing the fresh tagliatelle.

The secret of Bolognese ragù lies in its slow and careful preparation. Also, the ingredients include beef and pork, pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, tomato, red wine, and milk. This combination results in a thick and flavorful sauce that represents the essence of Bolognese cuisine.

To finish the meal, we chose tiramisu and cannoli alla siciliana, which were equally delicious!

Visiting Bologna and experiencing authentic ragù is a journey through time and a delight for the senses.

Accommodation in Bologne, Italy

Ficar a dormir no centro de Bolonha, Itália.
Staying overnight in the center of Bologna, Italy.

Regarding the choice of where to stay overnight in Bologna, the city center is the best option.

This is because the city is compact, allowing you to visit almost everything on foot. Therefore, it’s worth booking accommodation in the center.

We recommend the University Hotel (3 stars), modern and excellently located in the university area. Besides being able to walk to most of the monuments and attractions, this accommodation offers great value for money.

If you’re renting a car in Bologne, the hotel registers the vehicle, allowing you to move around Bologna without any issues.

But if you want to explore other accommodation options in Bologna, check out the map with the exact location of hotels and choose the one that suits you best.

Remember that booking a hotel in the center of Bologna guarantees a practical and enjoyable experience. Don’t waste time, book now, and enjoy everything the city has to offer!

Everything you need to know before traveling to Bologna, Italy

How to get from the airport to the center of Bologna?

Ir do Aeroporto Internacional Guglielmo Marconi (BLQ) para o centro de Bolonha, em Itália.
Going from Guglielmo Marconi International Airport (BLQ) to the center of Bologna, Italy. In the photo: Palazzo Re Enzo.

Guglielmo Marconi International Airport (BLQ) is located approximately 9 km from the center of Bologna, making access to the city easy.

The most convenient way to travel from Bologna Airport to the city center is by monorail. This transportation method combines metro and train services, and it’s modern and efficient.

The ticket costs 11 €, and the journey takes less than 10 minutes. The monorail takes you directly to Bologna Centrale Station, located in Piazza delle Medaglie d’Oro, right in the city center.

In addition to the monorail, you can also consider other transportation options such as taxis or buses, depending on your preferences and schedules.

However, for me, the monorail is the best way to travel from Bologna Airport to the city center as it is fast and practical.

How much time do you need to see Bologna?

Monumentos para ver em Bolonha. Quanto tempo é preciso para visitar a cidade?
Monuments to see in Bologna. How much time is needed to visit the city?

I stayed two days in Bologna and I think it’s the ideal amount of time to explore the city at a leisurely pace, dedicating some time at the end of the day to simply relax on the benches in the gardens or squares.

However, if you only have one day, it’s still possible to visit Bologna and see the most important tourist attractions.

On the other hand, if you have more days to visit the region, my suggestion is to take the bus or train to Ferrara (about 20 minutes away).

And what to see in Ferrara? Well, Ferrara, the City of the Renaissance, and its Po Delta are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so there are super interesting buildings to see!

For example, the Estense Castle, the Ferrara Cathedral, the Town Hall building from the 15th century, and the Palazzo dei Diamanti, which houses the National Gallery and resembles the Casa dos Bicos in Lisbon.

Is Bologna safe?

Centro de Bolonha durante o dia.
Bologna city center during the day.

I never felt unsafe in Bologna, both during the day and after dinner. However, it’s always good to follow some basic safety rules in all situations.

The streets in the historic center are quite busy, and public transport runs until late, making it easy to get around.

In any case, I recommend avoiding deserted streets at night and keeping your belongings in sight. As in any city, be aware of your surroundings and take basic precautions.

Is travel insurance necessary to visit Bologna, Italy?

Arcádias no centro histórico de Bolonha.
Arcades in the historic center of Bologna.

Although it is not mandatory, I strongly recommend getting travel insurance when visiting Bologna, Italy. Traveling with insurance provides peace of mind and protection in case of unexpected events.

IATI Travel Insurance is an excellent option. They offer comprehensive coverage and very competitive prices, meaning these are the travel insurance policies I always use and recommend.

With insurance, you are protected against health issues, flight cancellations, lost luggage, and other mishaps.

Believe me, even in a safe city like Bologna, unforeseen events can happen at any time. Having travel insurance ensures you are prepared for any eventuality.

Therefore, before traveling, consider purchasing travel insurance. The safety and peace of mind it offers will make a significant difference in your experience.

👉 See how much travel insurance for Italy costs.

How to get around in Bologna?

Transportes em Bolonha Itália.
Transportation in Bologna, Italy.

Bologna is well served by public transportation, making it very easy to get around.

In the city center, it’s very easy to walk around, considering that the distances are not very large; however, taxis regularly pass by on the streets.

Alternatively, you can call them (CAT Radiotaxi: +39 514 590 or Cotabo: +39 5137 2727).

For traveling to other cities, both the train (Trenitalia) and the bus (Flixbus) are very convenient to use.

Is it advisable to rent a car in Bologna?

Caminhar em Bolonha, a melhor forma de ir de um lado para outro no centro da cidade.
Walking in Bologna, the best way to get around the city center.

If it’s a short trip of two or three days to visit the center of Bologna and one or two cities nearby, I don’t think it’s necessary to rent a car in Bologna.

Both train and bus connections are quite good, and with Flixbus, you can buy tickets online in advance.

However, if you stay longer or want to go on a road trip in Italy, then it’s worth renting a car because that way you have the freedom to travel whenever and wherever you want, without worrying about public transport schedules.

For car rental, I use and recommend Discovercars, which has very affordable prices, especially if you book in advance.

If you decide to rent a car in Bologna, it’s important to know that some areas of the center have restricted traffic, meaning only registered cars can circulate.

However, don’t worry because registering the rented car to drive in Bologna is simple; you just need to talk to the hotel where you’re staying, as they usually take care of it.

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