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How to Spend the Perfect One Day in Bologna Itinerary

Last Updated on 30th October 2022 by TSM Media

Between sampling local Italian cuisine and getting lost in centuries old architectural marvels, there’s something for everyone in Bologna, even if you’re only staying for a short while. Here’s your ultimate guide and itinerary for spending the perfect one day in Bologna.

bologna guide

Introducing Bologna

A city that could be easily considered off-the-beaten path, Bologna does not often make it to the list of the most famous cities – Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples – that everyone wants to visit!

However, even when many people are really missing out on a truly fantastic Italian destination, you can make this play to your advantage: Better fees, no crowds, and lots of available accommodation.

Known as la dotta (the wise one) for its prestigious, ancient university, but also as la grassa (the fat one) for its incredibly delicious food, and la rossa (the red one) for its red-tiled roofs, but also for its political tendencies, Bologna offers plenty to do even in just 24 hours. So if you manage to fit one day in Bologna into your Italy itinerary, follow this guide to make the most of it!

Bologna Italy

General Details about Bologna

Bologna is the capital and main city of the region of Emilia-Romagna, in the northern area of the Italian peninsula. It is also among the ten most populous cities in the country, with a striving economy and industry, the first in economic growth in the country.

The city also hosts an extensive student population, which makes the city lively and busy, with plenty of choices when it comes to entertainment and things to do.

Municipal Palace

The city, which has Etruscan origins, was one of the most important cities in Europe during the Medieval Times when the renowned University of Bologna was founded.

In fact, this university was founded in 1088, and as it was never out of operation, it holds the title of the oldest university in the world. The city’s long porticoes have been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and provide the perfect cover during a rainy day.

Mercato di Mezzo

How to Get to Bologna and Moving Around

Planes to Bologna

The easiest option is to fly to Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi Airport which receives flights from the rest of Italy and other European cities. 

The airport is only six kilometres from the city centre which you can reach with the modern People Mover or also Marconi Express a brand new high-speed train that takes only 7 minutes to arrive at the central train station in Bologna. There is a train every 7 minutes and a single ticket is €8,70 (there are discounts for big groups). Contactless payment is available.

You can also get to the center by bus (bus number 944), this is the cheapest option. The first bus departs a 5 am and the trip takes about 15 minutes but it can be more during rush hour. The tickets are for sale at the airport. 

A more expensive alternative is a taxi ride, which can be about €25, and the ride can last from 15 to 30 minutes. This is your best bet if you carry a lot of luggage or if your accommodation is not in the center.

Trains to Bologna

The main station, Bologna Centrale, is located in the center of town, about 10 minutes from Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore.

It is very easy to reach Bologna from Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice, or Naples by train. It is good to remember that Bologna is located in the central area of the country, connecting the north and the south of the peninsula. 

The city also receives high-speed trains from other European capitals, including Vienna and Paris.

Drive to Bologna

If you’re touring Italy by car, it is quite simple to reach Bologna from other major cities via the modern Italian highways. And even when driving sounds like a practical idea, you must remember that Bologna’s city centre is closed to private cars every day from 8 am to 8 pm, plus there are several areas known as ZTL or limited traffic zones. 

If you still prefer to drive, you can park outside the limits of the city, and then walk or use public transport to move around in town.Bologna is a pretty compact and pedestrian-friendly city, therefore most attractions can be reached on foot.

Fountain of Neptune

Where to Stay in Bologna

It’s always better to stay close to the city centre, especially if you are visiting for the first time. This way, you will save money using less public transport, and you will be able to walk and discover hidden gems that you would otherwise miss.

Remember that this is a young town with a huge student university. Students come and go as well as visiting families and friends and finding affordable accommodation can be tricky. Booking your place early will guarantee better fees and finding the right spot in a convenient area. These are the places I suggest for a pleasant stay in Bologna:

Budget: Hotel Centrale– This affordable, three-star hotel is located in a small alley in the historic centre of Bologna. It offers basic but comfy guest rooms and apartments and it’s next to the airport bus stop and less than 10 minutes on foot from Bologna Central Train Station. Check prices and availability here.

Mid-range: Hotel University– Located in an excellent area in the university district of Bologna, near the centre, this hotel offers a buffet breakfast and an internet point, while there are lots of typical restaurants and cafés in the neighbourhood. Check prices and availability here.

Luxury: I Portici Hotel Bologna– A gorgeous property located in the historic centre, this four-star hotel is just a 5-minute walk from the Central Station. It features a bar, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a bistro. Check prices and availability here.

Best Things to Do in Bologna in a Day

A gem city during the Medieval times, Bologna is filled with impressive ancient buildings and stunning architecture, there are dozens of breathtaking churches and towers dating from the Middle Ages that you can visit. 

Its old historic district, mostly pedestrian, is a charming place to wander, while there are several green neighborhoods surrounding the center of the city, with many parks, trees, and public places to sit and rest. 

The city is also famous for its porticoes, (more than 600 porticoes) of these structures which are so unique that they were recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But, of course, the main reason to visit Bologna is the local food! Bologna is the capital of the region that has the highest quantity of DOP products in the country, from its balsamic vinegar to its wines, traditional pasta, cheese, and cold cuts, Bologna can be a feast for foodies. So, since there is a lot to see and do and you have just a day, let’s dive into the top things to do in Bologna.

Piazza Maggiore

The logical place where to start the visit is Bologna’s main square in the heart of the city. Dating from the Medieval Times (the 1200s), this is among the oldest squares in Italy. 

A visit to the square is perfect to start getting used to the local atmosphere, the gorgeous architecture, and the rhythms of the city. Stop at any given cafeteria for a drink or a coffee, and take a moment to sit and observe life going by around the piazza.

The main buildings you will observe include the different palazzi, such as Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio which houses a distinctive clock tower, Palazzo dei Banchi, and Palazzo del Podestà. Check out also the Saint Petronio church.

You can take some time to climb the clock tower for a gorgeous view of the main square and the characteristic red rooftops of Bologna.

Piazza Maggiore

Saint Petronius Basilica

At least eight churches and towers were demolished back in 1390 to make room for the construction of this church. With an imposing facade and an impressive covered surface, the basilica is over 130 meters in length and has a height of 47 meters at its most elevated point. 

Listed among the biggest basilicas in the world, Saint Petronius is the most remarkable religious building in town and it is dedicated to the city’s patron saint.

The church is famous as it was never finished because the pope at the time of the construction of the church feared that this basilica would end up being more spectacular than Saint Peter in the Vatican, therefore he ordered for it to remain incomplete.

The imposing interior area contains the main nave with twenty-two side chapels and Cassini’s Meridian Line, designed by astronomer Giovanni Cassini who was a teacher at Bologna’s University. The line is 66.8 meters long, making it one of the largest astronomical instruments in the world.

Bologna was also the most important centre of Baroque music in Europe and Saint Petronius used to be known for sacred instrumental and choral music as it had two great organs both still in original condition.

Basilica of San Petronio

Former Jewish Ghetto

A few steps from Via Rizzoli, you can explore the Jewish past of Bologna by strolling on the ancient alleys of this historic neighborhood.

Bologna’s Jewish Ghetto is located in the medieval area of town and it still preserves the same urban structure it used to have since its foundation in 1556 when the Church of Bologna enclosed the Jewish citizens until 1593 when they were expelled from Bologna.

The main road of the quarter was known as Via dell’Inferno (Hell’s road), while several small alleys crossed the main street giving shape to the district. It was on the main street that there used to be a synagogue which was removed as years went by. 

Back in the 1400s, Jewish Bologna was an important center of Hebrew studies where important rabbis would live. There were several printing workshops producing sacred Jewish books. There were also a Talmudic school, banks, lively trade, and well-developed commercial activities. 

When in 1417, men and women were requested to wear a distinctive trait (a yellow veil for women or a yellow circle on the chest for men). Later on, as more restrictive measures were added, the striving economic situation declined dramatically. You can also check out the Hebrew Museum or visit their website to learn more.

Quadrilatero

This is one of the most traditional areas in town, and it used to be the seat of the Medieval city market. Today, this is Bologna’s most important gastronomic district, where several specialty shops sell the city’s famed produce.

Over here you will find cheese and cold cut stores, but also ancient chocolate shops, fishmongers, hidden but delicious eateries, wine shops, and many more places that will make the day of any foodie visiting this town.

Late Lunch or Food Tour?

Although I would normally recommend a regular lunch in the center of town, when you have just a day to discover Bologna and such a rich gastronomy, there is nothing like a good food tour to taste a bit of everything and, at the same time, learn about the city from a knowledgeable guide.

During a food tour of Bologna you will be able to taste some of its original and most characteristic gastronomic products of Italy, including (but not only):

  • Aceto Balsamico di Modena
  • Tortellini
  • Tortelloni
  • Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
  • Ragù sauce (worldwide known as Bolognese)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Ham from Parma
  • Mortadella (a traditional cold cut that, in the rest of the country is also known as “Bologna”)
  • Pignoletto wine

These are just a few of the different amazing food you can enjoy in different osterie, restaurants, and trattorie that most of the organised food tours take you to visit, including the different food street markets and Bologna’s central Quatrilatero Market.

These are some of the tours that I suggest checking out:

Guided Traditional Food Tour: multi-course, traditional Bolognese lunch divided into 5 different restaurants hand-selected by local experts, the guide will also share stories and recipes, as well as the history of Bologna and its famed dishes. Check prices and availability here.

Taste Local Specialties on a Guided Walking Tour: Explore the food stalls in the Quadrilatero Market. Try three local dishes and a glass of wine while taking in the sights and history in the historic centre. Check prices and availability here.

Emilia Excellence Food Tour: Excellent value for money, this tour departs from Bologna to discover the best flavours of the region. You will visit a dairy factory, vinegar-production site, and wine cellar going behind the scenes of the regional cuisine. Check prices and availability here.

The art of Eating pasta in Italy: an Italian adventure in local cuisine and a history of pasta

Cooking Lesson

There’s no better souvenir to take home with you than learning how to make regional food that you can recreate over and over again when you’re back home. This city offers incredible cooking classes, some of them really interesting, take a look:

Hands-on Home Cooking Class: Learn to cook like a local in a typical Bologna home. Get hands-on help preparing your own lunch or dinner from a friendly chef during this activity and then eat your own dish.

food in bologna

Via Rizzoli

The most important street in Bologna, this is a perfect place for a long walk to discover modern shops and local fashion. Along the street, you can also visit different bars and restaurants. 

On this road, there are also some international chains and prestigious brands from Italy and the rest of the world, among them, Nike, Benetton, and even an Apple Store. Also along via Rizzoli, you can visit Coin, one of Italy’s most famous department stores. Another popular shopping street is Via dell’Indipendenza.

via dell Indipendenza

Bolognas Porticoes

The city is filled with these gorgeous passages and the best place to check them out is by walking along Via Saragozza. This is a 4-kilometer-long covered walkway stretching up towards the Church of Madonna di San Luca.

Head back to Piazza Maggiore for an afternoon aperitivo and a few more local bites before boarding your train out of Bologna, may be underrated, but certainly one of the best places to visit when discovering Italy. One of the best covered passages of Bologna is the Finestrella di Via Piella, which gives views onto Bologna’s canals.

Via Piella

If you have two or three days in Bologna

Asinelli Tower

If you enjoy visiting a city from above and getting a bird’s eye view of the lay of the land, then one of the best places to visit in Bologna is the Asinelli Tower. There are almost 500 steps to climb and some are pretty steep, but the view from the top is simply breathtaking.

Asinelli Tower

Roman ruins at Salaborsa

When it comes to discovering Italy’s past, Roman ruins are never too far away and this is no different in Bologna. One of the best ways to see Roman Bologna is to see some of the remains of the old Roman city at this underground museum. This is one of the more off the beaten path spots in Bologna as you’ll have to visit the public library to explore the small museum.

Salaborsa

Palazzo Re Enzo

This Palace is situated on Piazza del Nettuno and is only open during certain times of the year. If you do want to visit, then you’ll have to book a time slot in advance.

Palazzo Re Enzo

Archiginnasio Palace

Archiginnasio Palace was once an important building that used to be part of the University of Bologna. One of the more hidden gem activities in Bologna today is to pay the sum of a few euros to enter the anatomical theatre, which dates back to the 17th-century.

Archiginnasio palace

Churches of Santo Stefano

The churches of Saint Stephen are a religious complex that encompasses no fewer than seven churches. One of the most important areas of this ecclesiastical site is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which dates back to the 5th-century.

san stefano square

Take a day trip from Bologna

While some of these day trips are best attempted by car (train transfer times can make the journeys prohibitively long otherwise, as in the case of Bergamo and San Marino), other cities are easy to reach by public transportation. For example, some of the easiest day trips from Bologna include visits to nearby Faenza and Modena.

San Marino city views

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best of bologna/ things to do in bologna in one day italy guide

Gabi Ancarola is a journalist and travel writer who has lived over 20 years in Italy, and has been living in Crete for the last five years. She hosts culinary tours, translates and writes for her Crete travel blog The Tiny Book. She’s written for Greek Reporter and published several travel guides about Greece.

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