Food and history make Italy’s Bologna the perfect long-weekend destination. This travel guide gives you an itinerary full of the must-see spots to visit.
Whether you’re traveling to Bologna for a long weekend or simply stopping on an Italian road trip, you’ll want to make the most of every second. This history-laden, food-filled city is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and, luckily, is relatively compact. This means it’s fairly easy to see the top attractions, experience the food that makes it Italy’s culinary heart, and soak up the atmosphere in just 72 hours.
Day One: History, Architecture, and Italian Coffee
Prepare for a busy day with a hearty breakfast. If you want to take in Bologna’s dramatic looks, you can’t get much more magnificent than The Grand Hotel Majestic. This five-star hotel, which has welcomed celebrities and royals to its luxurious rooms and fine-dining tables, offers a breakfast buffet from a range of cuisines. It’s good to know that you don’t need to be a guest at the hotel to eat here.
Near the hotel, you’ll find Piazza del Nettuno, and past the Neptune Fountain, rests Piazza Maggiore. Where better to start exploring this city than in Bologna’s main square?
You can’t miss Basilica di San Petronio. At over 400 feet long, 200 feet wide, and 47 150 feet high, it’s the largest church in the city. As you walk towards it, you’ll notice that although construction started back in 1390, the exterior isn’t actually finished. Inside you’ll discover the oldest organ in the world.
Dominating the west side of the square is Palazzo Comunale, the home of Bologna’s city council. Art lovers will want to head up to the second floor to explore Collezioni Comunali d’Arte, which has more than 250 paintings that span centuries. Ready for a coffee break to rest and refuel? Sit down with a cappuccino and watch the world go by at Canton de’Fiori, located under the arches on the main street, Via dell’Indipendenza.
It’s a short walk from here to the city’s two iconic towers, which have a slight lean to them. Torre Garisenda isn’t open to the public, but it’s well worth climbing the 498 steps to the top of the Torre degli Asinelli. The spectacular views across the city are worth the effort alone. If you’re a student, take heed of local legend. Rumor has it that if you climb the tower, you’ll never graduate. Of course, it’s just a myth, but if you’re superstitious – and currently studying – you might want to view them from the outside, just in case.
Walk back through the square to the impressive Archiginnasio; the first seat of the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, it’s the second oldest university in the world – only the University of Karueein in Fez, Morocco, is older.
Finish your day with one of the many pasta dishes Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region are famous for. For traditional ragú and green lasagna, Da Gianni, close to Piazza Maggiore, is a favorite.
Day Two: Porticoes, Views, and Local Cuisine
It’s impossible to miss Bologna’s archetypal porticoes – there’s around 23 miles of them. They’ve protected the city’s visitors and inhabitants from sun and rain for around 1,000 years.
Portico di San Luca is the longest portico in the world. At over two miles long, it starts from the Bonaccorsi arch at Porta Saragozza, before winding its way to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca on top of the Colle della Guardia. It’s worth visiting the Museum of the Madonna di San Luca before walking behind the portico’s 600-plus arches.
Along the way, you’ll pass Villa Spada, Villa delle Rose, and Celebrazioni before arriving at the Meloncello Arch. From here, it’s another mile to the top, some 885 feet above sea level. The panoramic views of the city are breathtaking and make the climb worthwhile.
You’ll no doubt have worked up an appetite. On the way back down, take a seat at Trattoria Meloncello. This traditional tavern, dating back to the early 1900s, is perfectly located at the bottom of San Luca hill – opposite Meloncello Arch. It’s worth checking out for its exquisite homemade Italian dishes alone – think delicious tortellini in brodo – as well as its intimate patio area.
Once you’re back at the bottom, head to Palazzo Albergati. This beautiful building dates back to 1519 and its tours will guide you through its fascinating history. The palace also regularly hosts art exhibitions.
Day 3: Culture, Shopping, and Gelato
If you fancy a filling brunch, there are plenty of places in Bologna to choose from. Pappare offers a wide breakfast menu, including a brunch platter starring pancakes, scrambled eggs, grilled ham, and bacon.
Once you’ve eaten, spend the rest of your morning discovering Museo della Storia di Bologna – an interactive museum that tracks more than 2,500 years of Bologna’s history. Next, head over to Pinacoteca Nazionale – the city’s main art gallery – to explore work by Bolognese artists.
After a busy couple of days, slow down the afternoon with a leisurely stroll around the city’s markets and stores and try some of Italy’s famous gelato along the way. La Sorbetteria Castiglione offers unique flavors. In the center, Il Gelatauro offers classical options, as well as seasonal flavors and fresh fruit sorbetti.
Next, aim for La Piazzola, an outdoor market that dates back to 1251. Once a cattle market, it now has around 400 street vendors selling arts and crafts, clothing, shoes, and plenty of handy household goods. If you can’t find anything you like then don’t worry, you still have the Quadrilatero area to explore. The streets around Via Clavature, running through the heart of the quarter, were once Roman Bologna. Today they’re home to a medieval market and more stores.
Feeling hungry? Make your way to Mercato di Mezzo, a gourmet food hall in the heart of the food district. Make sure you visit the stall of Bologna’s most famous bakery, Forno Calzolari. Finally, take the weight off your feet in the deeply impressive Le Stanze restaurant. Located in a former chapel, with frescoes dating back to the 17th century, it’s the perfect place to close your time in this beautiful city.
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