23 Best Things to do in Bologna, Italy

Adventurous Kate contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

The city of Bologna has always been one of my favorite places in Italy. There are so many fun and delicious things to do in Bologna — this city is overflowing with art, architecture, and fabulous food!

As the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna is perfectly situated between Milan, Venice, and Florence — yet it’s overlooked by most travelers.

But it’s absolutely worth making time for Bologna on your trip to Italy. You’ll find just as much culture and history as in other Italian cities, but it’s far less busy than the more popular spots in Italy.

Planning your trip to Bologna last minute?

Bologna is a popular destination, so be sure to book hotels and tours as far in advance as possible!

🏔️ Top Experiences and Tours in Bologna:

  1. Go on a walking food tour (my #1 recommendation!)
  2. Take a cooking class (learn to make authentic pasta!)
  3. Take a day trip to Parma (another foodie destination)

🛌  Top-Rated Hotels in Bologna:

  1. Grand Hotel Baglioni (18th century palace)
  2. Aemilia Hotel Bologna (Comfortable & stylish)
  3. B&B Mercedes (Great budget option)

🚗 Renting a car from Bologna Airport? Find deals on car rental rates here.

I’ve been traveling in Bologna for more than a decade. In that time, I have proudly watched Bologna’s tourism grow to new heights — and so much of that is due to the work we bloggers have been doing on the ground.

(In fact, in one of my reader surveys, Bologna was the second-most-popular destination you guys have visited because of me!)

Bologna has had many nicknames: la rossa (the red), la dotta (the learned), and la grossa (the fat). Bologna is home to warm-colored buildings and the oldest university in the world, and has long been a meeting spot for youth activism. The city is young, fun, and has lots of cheap eats to feed hungry students.

Speaking of the food, Emilia-Romagna is the best food region in Italy. This is the home of traditional balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto di parma, and restaurants that have a single dinner seating designed to last for hours.

I can’t wait to show you why Bologna is one of my favorite cities in Italy. Here are the best things to do in Bologna!

This post was published in April 2024 and was co-written by Adventurous Kate and Dale Peterson.

Trays of freshly made stuffed pasta in Italy.
Any decent food tour in Bologna will involve pasta!

Best Things to Do in Bologna, Italy

Go on a food tour

One of the best things to do in Bologna is a food tour — and in a city as food-crazy as Bologna, I think it’s a must! A food tour is a great way to discover the specialties of Emilia-Romagna and how to eat them.

This walking tour takes you on foot through Bologna. As you learn about the city’s culinary history, you’ll sample fresh pasta, traditional balsamic vinegar, cheese, wine, gelato, and more. Or you can try this similar tour with a knowledgeable local guide.

Alternatively, this full-day experience is the best way to immerse yourself in the cuisine of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna. You’ll visit family-run factories and local producers, sampling Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, and more. You’ll also enjoy a local breakfast and a delicious lunch with wine pairings.

And be sure to peruse my list of best food experiences in Emilia-Romagna!

Brightly colored orange and red buildings in Bologna, porticoes underneath.
The best way to explore Bologna is on foot.

Tour Bologna by walking or biking tour

After you’ve eaten your way through the city, get out of your food coma by touring Bologna on foot or by bike. Don’t miss the central Piazza Maggiore, the food market at Il Quadrilatero, or the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano.

If you’re looking for an overview of the city, try this two-hour walking tour. If you’d prefer to explore the city with a private guide, this is a good option.

And if you want to explore Bologna and its surroundings on two wheels, try this e-bike tour. Bologna is a pretty flat city, but the e-bike motor will help you get up the occasional hill! Following your local guide, you’ll explore Bologna and some of the surrounding countryside.

Bologna's Piazza Maggiore, a bit wide square with people walking by, and big fountain with a naked man on top (the god Neptune).
Piazza Maggiore, the heart of Bologna!

Explore Piazza Maggiore and the Fountain of Neptune

Piazza Maggiore is the beating heart at the center of Bologna. This sprawling piazza is surrounded by important and iconic buildings, including several historic palaces and the Basilica of San Petronio.

At the center of the square, you’ll find the Fountain of Neptune, a symbol of Bologna. This fountain was erected in the 16th century and depicts the Roman water god Neptune flanked by dolphins, nereids, and angels.

The art of the passeggiata, or the early evening stroll, is alive and well in Bologna, and Piazza Maggiore is a great place for people-watching at this time of day.

Three women stand talking beneath porticoes stretching through the background.

Stroll through the porticoes

Exploring the porticoes of Bologna is one of the best things to do in the city. There are nearly 25 miles of historic porticoes throughout the city center, and they have collectively been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some of the porticoes date back to the early 12th century, while others were constructed later during the Renaissance. The porticoes offer excellent shade from the sun and rain no matter what time of year it is, and they’re fun to explore on your own or with a guide.

This guided tour will take you past many of the most beautiful porticoes in Bologna, as well as the largest portico, which is located slightly outside the city in San Luca.

View from the Torre Asinelli of the city of Bologna -- all red roofs and twisted streets.
View from the top of the Torre Asinelli in Bologna

Climb the Torre Asinelli 

The Torre Asinelli provides a stunning, panoramic view over Bologna. It’s the taller of two medieval towers in the center of Bologna, and climbing it is one of the most popular things to do in Bologna.

(2024 UPDATE: The Torre Asinelli is temporary closed (as of April 2024) with no reopen date scheduled. Instead, you can climb the Bologna Clock Tower for a 360-degree city view. I don’t have a step count, but it’s significantly less than the Torre Asinelli. Tickets for this are 10 EUR ($11 USD) and include admission to the museum next door.)

Just be prepared — you’ll climb 498 steps to reach the top of the tower! This is a big climb, and unlike some of the towers in nearby Florence, there aren’t platforms to stop along the way. Make sure you’re up for it. Tickets are 5 EUR ($5.50 USD.) 

Whatever you climb, I highly recommend rewarding yourself with a gelato on the ground!

Bologna’s markets are well worth a visit!

Explore the markets 

Bologna is home to two great food markets: Il Quadrilatero and Mercato delle Erbe. The Quadrilatero is the oldest market in Bologna, dating back to the Middle Ages. Today, this outdoor market on Bologna’s narrow historic streets is full of butchers, fishmongers, cheese stands, produce sellers, small wine bars, and other eateries. 

You’ll also find small jewelry stores, clothing boutiques, and artisan shops. The Quadrilatero is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike in Bologna.

Mercato delle Erbe is a sprawling covered market that is also located in the historic center of Bologna. You’ll also find plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, local cheeses, and other food here. Part of this market has also been transformed into a food court with tons of vendors, making it a great spot to grab a quick lunch.

A short, red-colored church with cypress trees on each side.
This church in Bologna is well worth a visit. Via Shutterstock.

Visit the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano

The Seven Churches of Santo Stefano is Bologna’s most important religious complex. This basilica, made up of multiple historic buildings, is located in the center of Bologna. It dates back to at least the 10th century.

Visiting the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano is free. It’s open daily, but the timetables may change based on religious functions and holidays.

A window leading to a small, shallow canal in Bologna, warm-colored buildings on each side.
How cute is this little window? Via Shutterstock.

Find the Window to Little Venice

Bologna is home to several canals, but unlike Venice, they are largely hidden from view. Since Bologna’s canals run between private buildings and are largely inaccessible to visitors, there are only a few places to catch a glimpse of them.

One of those places is the so-called “Window to Little Venice.” You can find this spot on Google Maps under Finestra sul Canale. It’s a little window overlooking the Canale delle Moline, offering the perfect view for photographers.

This is a not-so-hidden gem these days due to the window’s popularity on TikTok, so arrive early if you want to snap a photo of the best view of the canal without having to wait in line.

An old-fashioned room with carved wooden walls and statues, with a flat table in the center of the room.
Visiting the anatomical theatre is one of the more unusual things to do in Bologna.

Archiginnasio Anatomical Theatre

One of the most unique things to do in Bologna is visit the Archiginnasio Anatomical Theatre. This historic 17th-century hall was once used for anatomy lectures and displays at the University of Bologna’s medical school.

The room itself is fascinating, with intricately carved wooden walls and ceiling.

You can visit the Anatomical Theatre for 3 EUR ($3. USD), and your ticket also includes entrance to several other historic university rooms.

A few people sitting on the grass in a big park.
A relaxing day in Parco Giardini Margherita, via Shutterstock

Parco Giardini Margherita

Parco Giardini Margherita is the largest and best green space in Bologna. In the warmer months, this is a popular spot with picnickers and groups of friends hanging out. Regardless of the season, it’s a good place to go for a stroll.

For a truly special lunch in Bologna, pick up lunch from one of the markets and have a picnic on the grass.

The park is a 20-minute walk from the center of Bologna. 

A museum lined with fancy Ducati motorcycles.
Luscious motorcycles at the Museo Ducati, via Andres Canet on Shutterstock.

Visit Bologna Museums 

Bologna is an excellent city to visit for art, history, and culture. The city is home to many museums, perfect for exploring on a rainy day or when you need to walk off some of the delicious food you’ve been consuming.

These are some of the top museums to check out in Bologna:

Housed in the Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio, a medieval palace, Museo della Storia di Bologna is dedicated to the history of Bologna.

The Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (MAMbo) houses an impressive collection of modern and experimental art.

If modern art isn’t your speed, take in the collection at the Bologna National Gallery, which houses works by Raphael, Tintoretto, and more.

Located slightly outside the city, the Ferrari Museum is dedicated to the history of the Ferrari sports car brand. It’s a must-visit for car enthusiasts! More of a motorcycle fan? Check out the Museo Ducati!

A more offbeat choice, the Museum for the Memory of Ustica is dedicated to the controversial and mysterious Itavia Flight 870 plane crash of 1980.

Housed in the 15th-century Palazzo Galvani, Museo Civico Archeologico offers an impressive archaeological collection in the center of Bologna.

Two glasses of red wine on a table in a bar in Bologna, Italy.
Lambrusco is calling your name in Bologna.

Go Wine Tasting in Bologna

You may think of Tuscany or Piemonte when it comes to wine regions in Europe, but here’s a tip — EVERY region in Italy makes great wine! Emilia-Romagna makes wonderful wines, and is particularly known for its sparkling red wines from Lambrusco.

On this wine tour, you can sample four different wines and learn from a local expert within the city of Bologna. Or get out of town on this Emilia-Romagna wine tour and enjoy wine tasting in the hills surrounding Bologna. 

If you’d prefer to visit Tuscany for wine tasting, you can do so on this full-day tour from Bologna that includes wine tasting in a castle! Though honestly, if you’re visiting Florence later in your trip, save that for Florence.

A silver vespa parked on a cobblestone street in Bologna.
This could be your ride! Via Max Jungle on Shutterstock.

Tour Bologna by Vespa

Ever since seeing The Talented Mr. Ripley, I dreamed of zipping around Italy on a Vespa someday. And you can fulfill that dream in the countryside surrounding Bologna! This Vespa tour will take you out of the city and through the countryside on a panoramic excursion.

You don’t have to worry about navigating, as you will ride on the back of a Vespa driven by your knowledgeable local guide, who will point out the sights around Bologna’s scenic countryside.

A big red bus driving down a narrow street in Bologna, the driver reaching out to get a ticket from a machine.
There’s so much to discover in Bologna’s red streets.

Go on an escape game treasure hunt

Try an escape game treasure hunt for a quirky and offbeat activity in Bologna. This fun activity for groups combines exploring Bologna with a fast-paced game.

This murder mystery escape game will lead you through the historic streets of Bologna as you solve a mystery and learn more about the city. Or try this outdoor escape game that reveals untold stories about medieval Bologna.

It’s a fun, modern smartphone-oriented game that makes a nice contrast to all the historic places you’ll be visiting!

Chef's hands sculpting tortelli -- large tortellini. His hands surround the cheese stuffing and push down.
Once you’ve made fresh pasta in Bologna, you’ll be hooked.

Take a cooking class

I’ve been going on and on about Bologna’s wonderful food — so wouldn’t you like to learn how to cook it? Taking a cooking class is fun for beginner and experienced cooks alike. 

There are several options for learning to cook fresh pasta with a local Bolognese chef. With Alessia, you can learn how to make pasta based on her grandmother’s recipe and with Cesarina, you can prepare two pasta dishes while sipping on Prosecco. Chef Antonino is a professional chef and expert in Bolognese cuisine, so expect to learn about the history of the dishes you prepare with him.

No matter which cooking experience you choose, you’ll finish with some homemade tiramisu.

A man carving ham, surrounded by hanging hams.
FICO Eataly World is MY kind of theme park! Via pio3 on Shutterstock.

Visit FICO Eataly World

FICO Eataly World describes itself as a food-centric theme park. And it does sort of feel like a Disney World for foodies, making it a must-visit attraction in Bologna.

At FICO Eataly World, you’ll find a sprawling complex with a working farm, hands-on exhibits about Italian food, cooking demonstrations, various eateries, and pop-up shops. It’s easy to spend an afternoon learning and eating your way through this foodie paradise.

An old-looking bottle of balsamic vinegar in front of barrels in Modena, Italy.
Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena is an Emilia-Romagna essential.

Take a foodie day trip through Emilia-Romagna

While Bologna may be home to some of the best restaurants and markets in Emilia-Romagna, I think it’s worth getting out of the city to explore where these products are made.

You can discover the region’s best food on a day trip like this one, where you’ll sample parmigiano reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Lambrusco sparkling wine. 

Or try this private half-day tour, which includes a private tasting tour and a sit-down lunch with local wine pairings.

A bright red Ferrari cruising through the Italian countryside.
This could be you, just outside Bologna! Via pio3 on Shutterstock.

Learn about supercars in Motor Valley

Another lovely thing about Emilia-Romagna is that this is the region of Motor Valley, home to famous names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. Even if you aren’t a huge car enthusiast, it’s still fascinating to learn more about the history of this region.

This day tour is a good option for anyone short on time because it takes you to three of the most popular car factories and museums in the Motor Valley. Even if you’re not super into cars, it’s really interesting!

And, it must be said…this top-rated excursion gives you the option to test-drive a Ferrari. How amazing is that?!

A street scene with old-fashioned stores with moss-green paint in Parma, Italy. Three motorbikes are parked in front of the stores and pedestrians are walking behind them.

Take a day trip to Parma 

As much as I love Bologna, there’s another city in Emilia-Romagna that I adore — Parma. Parma is just a 50-minute train ride from Bologna, and it’s also on the train ride to Milan, making it a great stopover between the cities.

What I love about Parma is that it feels a lot like Bologna, but it’s more colorful — lots of purples and greens in addition to the reds, oranges, and yellows of Bologna. The cathedral is breathtaking, the restaurants are awesome, and there’s quite a lot of excellent shopping, too.

Two of Parma’s most famous foods are Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma (also known as Parma ham to the Brits reading this post). This day tour allows you to learn more about both by visiting a dairy producer where you’ll be able to sample cheese and local wine, as well as a ham factory where you’ll try prosciutto and more wine.

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Parma, Italy

A big white and pink church in the middle of the main square in Ferrara, Italy.

Take a day trip to Ferrara

Another great day trip from Bologna is the city of Ferrara, just a 45-minute train ride from Bologna. This is another beautiful (and beautifully flat) city easy to explore on foot, and a great place to get lost in the streets.

I actually spent some time in Ferrara when my dear friends let me crash with them as I waited for the Czechs to give me permission to return to the country! I strongly recommend getting lunch at my favorite spot, Osteria dei Adelardi, which has a great plate of three local pastas. It’s right by Al Brindisi, the oldest wine bar in the world.

One thing worth exploring is Estense Castle, right in the middle of the city. This imposing medieval castle dates back to the 14th century and features four dramatic towers, a moat, and a drawbridge.

Tickets to Estense Castle are 12 EUR ($13 USD) for adults, with reductions available for seniors, students, and children.

The mosaics of Ravenna, the ceiling of a dome, covered with mosaic scenes from Jesus's life.
The mosaics of Ravenna, Italy — well worth a day trip from Bologna.

Visit other cities in Emilia-Romagna 

If you like small cities — and I’m a fan of small cities — you’ll love Emilia-Romagna. Being the transport hub in the region, Bologna is well-connected to other cities in the region by train and bus.

My top recommendation, after Parma, is the mosaic-filled town of Ravenna. The mosaics here are stunning and will knock you off your feet! This tour will take you through five of the city’s UNESCO monuments with a knowledgeable guide. Beyond the mosaics, the town is lovely.

Another option is Modena, a foodie town home to its traditional balsamic vinegar, as well as the town where Aziz Ansari’s character holed up on Master of None. It’s another beautiful town with great restaurants.

And would you like to visit a new country? Why not?! The adorable micronation of San Marino is within day-tripping distance of Bologna. I recommend taking the train to the Adriatic beach town of Rimini, then taking the bus to San Marino from there. The cities work well together as a day trip from Bologna.

Brightly lit cafe alongside a canal in Venice.

Take a day trip to Venice

The enchanting city of Venice is just a 1.5-hour high-speed train ride away from Bologna, making it one of the best day trips you can take. You can spend an entire day exploring this city of canals and bridges before returning to Bologna in the evening.

Is Venice worth it if it’s just a day trip? I recommend staying a few nights in Venice if possible, but if you only have time for a day trip, it’s worth it. And a day trip from Bologna is much easier than coming all the way from Florence, Milan, or Rome.

Don’t miss St. Mark’s Square and the historic Doge’s Palace, and be sure to eat some cicchetti — but also take some time to get lost.

Venice is a city that suffers significantly from over-tourism, particularly day trippers visiting on massive cruise ships. Even if you’re only visiting Venice for a day, I recommend making an effort to get off the well-trodden tourist path — you often only have to walk a few minutes away from the main tourist areas to discover quieter areas more popular with locals.

At dusk, Florence's Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio rise underneath a deepening blue sky and darker blue cloud. In the foreground are rose bushes from the rose garden.

Take a day trip to Florence

Florence is the magnificent city of the Renaissance, with so much art, it seems to spring out of the pavement on its own. Just 35 minutes away from Bologna by train, Florence is an easy day trip from Bologna, and I’ve done it as a day trip myself (though I recommend spending a few days if you’re able to).

Florence is enormously popular year-round, even in the so-called off season, and it’s imperative to make advance bookings if you want to visit the three most popular sites: the Uffizi Gallery (home to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and so many other great works); the Accademia (home to Michelangelo’s statue of David), and climbing the Duomo (though I prefer the view from Giotto’s Bell Tower or the rose garden, pictured above, because you can’t see the Duomo from the Duomo!).

Once you have your essentials booked, get ready for a fun (and very crowded) day. I recommend visiting the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signorina, and recently had a great time at the new-ish Gucci exhibit at the Gucci Garden store. Try an enormous, rare bistecca fiorentina if you dare!

A city street in Bologna with lots of porticoes on one side of the street, and a single man riding a bicycle.
A week in Bologna would be an absolute pleasure.

How Much Time to Spend in Bologna

How much time do you need in Bologna? Bologna is a smaller city, so two days is a reasonable amount of time to see the sites of Bologna itself.

HOWEVER! Bologna is an excellent base for a longer stay — whether you are using it as a base for trips around the region (which you absolutely should do), or if you’re coming for a longer stint as a digital nomad. I’ve visited Bologna several times over the years, and especially loved when I spent two full weeks here.

If you’re using Bologna as a day trip base, I think around five days makes a good time to visit. But you know me — I think you’d be thrilled to stay for even longer!

A woman in workout gear runs with her black medium-sized dog on a leash. They run past a pinkish-red wall covered with graffiti in Bologna, Italy.
Bologna couldn’t be easier to get to.

How to get to Bologna

Getting to Bologna is a breeze. It’s one of Italy’s most conveniently located cities, with tons of train and bus connections and an airport with direct flights all over Europe.

Getting to Bologna by train is your best option if you’re already in Italy. It’s a 35-minute high-speed train ride from Florence, one hour from Milan, 1.5 hours from Venice, and two hours from Rome. You can take a slower train to save money, but the fast trains are the most efficient choice for getting to Bologna from other cities in Italy.

Although there are no direct flights to Bologna from North America, there are numerous affordable connections from dozens of European cities.

A group of people walking past a sidewalk cafe in Bologna next to a bright red building with porticoes.
Stay in the city center for easy access all over Bologna.

Where to Stay in Bologna

Where should you stay in Bologna? You should definitely stay in the city center — anywhere within a 15-minute walk of Piazza Maggiore is pretty good, though I’d probably stay away from the square where the train station is. This area can be a bit rough at night, as most train stations in Europe are — fine to pass through, but I wouldn’t choose a hotel right there.

Choosing a centrally-located hotel will make it easy to explore Bologna’s major sites. These are the best places to stay in Bologna for every budget:

  • Top-Rated Luxury Hotel in Bologna: Grand Hotel Baglioni is the best luxury hotel in Bologna, with gorgeous and elegant rooms inside an 18th-century palace. 
  • Top-Rated Mid-Range Hotel in Bologna: If you’re looking for a solid mid-range hotel, Aemilia Hotel Bologna is the best choice. Located a 15-minute walk from the center of Bologna, this hotel offers comfortable, stylish rooms at a reasonable price.
  • Top-Rated Budget Hotel in Bologna: For budget travelers, B&B Mercedes is a great place to stay in Bologna. It’s convenient to the train station and the rest of the city.
  • Find more places to stay in Bologna here.
The red city walls of Bologna, as the sun begins to set.
Come in the fall for the best atmosphere in Bologna.

Best Time to Visit Bologna

When should you visit Bologna? My absolute favorite time to visit Bologna is during the fall, but both shoulder seasons (fall and spring) are lovely.

Fall is a fantastic time to visit anywhere in Emilia-Romagna — especially October. It’s harvest season, there are lots of food festivals taking place, the weather is cooler but not cold, and everyone seems to be in a great mood. I’ve got a lot of photos in my Autumn in Emilia-Romagna post.

Spring brings pleasant weather, blooming flowers, and fewer tourists.

Summer can be oppressively hot, as Bologna is in the middle of a very flat part of Italy, and far from the cooling breezes of the coasts. Summer is also the most crowded time of year in Italy. I recommend avoiding visiting in summer if possible — though if you can only visit during the summer, you’ll still have fun! Use the porticoes for shade.

Winter is the quietest time of year in Bologna, but it’s also a great time to visit, explore, and have a more local feel. Bologna has a wonderful, festive atmosphere in December, with Christmas lights and decorations in the city center. And Carnival, usually in February, is a lot of fun!

Kate standing in front of a graffitied wall in Bologna covered with purple and pink flowers.
I love Bologna so much!

Is Bologna Worth It?

Bologna is one of my absolute favorite places in Italy. In fact, it’s probably in the top three. I think it’s such a fantastic city, so local, and so fun.

Over the years, I’ve sent so many of my readers to Bologna, and it always makes my heart sing when I find out how much they enjoyed it!

Go to Bologna. You’ll have a fantastic time.

Planning a Trip to Italy:

More Cool Places in Northern Italy:

Best of Southern Italy:

Have you been to Bologna? Any tips to share?