From its medieval town center to its legendary culinary scene, Bologna is one of Italy’s most beloved cities. Explore the city by bike, join a local guide for a food-themed tour, or get outside the city to learn about the regional tradition of luxury cars on a racetrack during a visit.
Things to do in Bologna
Welcome to Bologna
Italy is a well-known food lover's destination, and Bologna is at the epicenter of the country's culinary heart. This historic city, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, is a place where eating can rightly be called a local pastime—and one of the main reasons people visit. Food tours in and around Bologna include such local delicacies as prosciutto from nearby Parma, nutty Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and the famous balsamic vinegar from the town of Modena just 28 miles (45 kilometers) away. Walk through the city's colorful food markets with a guide to find out what’s on menus all over town, or learn the secrets of Italian cuisine from expert chefs during a cooking class. When you need a break from all that eating, take a walking tour or guided bike ride through Bologna's historic center to see the Basilica di San Petronio and Fountain of Neptune (Fontana del Nettuno) on Piazza Maggiore, the two medieval leaning towers, and the University of Bologna, founded in 1088 AD by its own students. For farther-afield highlights, take a day trip to the nearby towns of Bazzano and Vignola; the pretty villages of the Reno Valley; or the factories where Lamborghini, Pagani, and Ferrari make their sports cars.
Top 10 attractions in Bologna
Bologna’s beating heart is Piazza Maggiore, in the city’s old center. A classic example of Renaissance town planning, it is one of the most graceful public squares in Italy. The pedestrianised square is surrounded by the Basilica di San Petronio, the Palazzo Communale (city hall), palatial public buildings and Bologna’s trademark covered walkways ringed by arches. Sit at an outdoor cafe to enjoy people watching in the sunshine during the day, and visit in the early evening to see the beautifully floodlit Fountain of Neptune, sculpted in 1566....
Bologna owes much of its contemporary charm and vibrancy to its lively University Quarter. As in all good university cities, it has a good cache of cafes, bars and clubs to cater to its student population. Bologna’s university has an impressive lineage, dating back to 1088, making it the first university in Europe. During the Renaissance and Baroque eras, it attracted some of Europe’s finest thinkers, including Renaissance scholars Mirandola and Alberti, astronomer Copernicus, and the artists Durer and Borromeo. The university houses a number of museums, including an Anatomy Museum, Herbarium, Physics Museum, Museum of Anthropology, Wax Museum and Museum of Zoology. Most museums are found in the Palazzo Poggi, the university’s seat after 1803. A highlight is the Astronomy Museum, along with the palazzo’s many frescoes and impressive decor....
More than 100 towers pierced the sky above Bologna in the Middle Ages, but only 20 still stand today. The most famous are the city center’s Two Towers (Due Torri), which lean at a gravity-defying angle that rivals Pisa’s Leaning Tower. Climb to the top of the taller one for fabulous views over the city and surrounding countryside....
Named for Bologna’s patron saint, the city’s fifth-century bishop, the Basilica di San Petronio is the world’s fifth-largest church and a fabulous example of Gothic grandeur. Construction began in 1390, but plans to enlarge the basilica were halted in the 1500s when the design threatened to overshadow that of St Peter’s in Rome. Thanks to this creative curtailment, the basilica’s facade detail remains unfinished. On a tour of the basilica’s interior, admire the frescoed chapels and apse, the rich stained glass and marble. The exterior features detailed carvings of biblical scenes. Look out for the brass sundial embedded in the floor of the eastern aisle....
Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university in continuous operation - founded in 1088 - and one of the many schools in the university is a medical school. You might not think that a medical school would be an attraction worth seeking out, but the historic Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio alone is worth the trip. The Archiginnasio is a university building, originally constructed in the 16th century, that served for many years as the primary university building. Today, it houses the largest municipal library in the region, but the main attraction is the Anatomical Theatre. Built in 1637, it’s a gorgeous room paneled entirely in spruce with a coffered ceiling. The seating is amphitheatre-style, and the seat from which a professor would deliver lectures more closely resembles a throne or a preacher’s pulpit than a teacher’s desk....
A jumble of four churches make up the Basilica of St Stephen, or Basilica di Santo Stefano, dating back to the Romanesque era. With interesting cloisters, statues and artworks, the complex was once made up of seven churches. The Church of the Crucifix houses the bones of St Petronio, and is next to the octagonal Church of the Holy Sepulcher, formerly a baptistery. The Church of Santi Vitale e Agricola, Bologna’s oldest church, incorporates Roman masonry and mostly dates from the 11th century. The medieval cloister is a tranquil resting place, en route to a small museum....
Sculpted by Frenchman Giambologna in 1566, the bronze statue of Neptune waving his trident aloft is a classic example of the High Mannerist art of the late Renaissance. At the base of the Neptune Fountain, or Fontana del Nettuno, in the circular pools, the four sirens spouting water from their breasts represent the four continents. Four cherubs represent the winds. The fountain is particularly effective when floodlit at night....
More than 100 towers stood guard over Bologna in the Middle Ages, but only 20 survive today. One of the few left standing is Torre Prendiparte, the second-highest in the city, soaring almost 200 feet (60 meters) above street level. Climb the internal staircase to the panoramic rooftop for bird’s-eye views over the historic center....
Casting a protective eye over Bologna, the hilltop Santuario de Madonna di San Luca basilica can be seen from most vantage points in the city. Built in the mid-18th century to house a portrait of the Virgin Mary painted by St Luke, the basilica has some notable artworks and statues. One of the main highlights of this basilica is getting there – on foot. The sanctuary lies 4 km (2.5 miles) south-west of central Bologna, linked by the world’s longest undercover portico. Supported by 666 graceful arches, the portico is gently stepped as it winds uphill....
Behind its understated Romanesque façade and distinctive rose window, the Basilica of San Domenico (Basilica di San Domenico) is teeming with Renaissance treasures, as well as ranking among Bologna’s most important churches. The church was built in 1221 to house the tomb of San Domenico, Founder of the Dominican Order of Preachers, and the Ark of St. Dominic remains the church’s grand centerpiece – a magnificent marble shrine created by Nicola Pisano and Niccolò dell’Arca....
Top activities in Bologna
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- Bologna Food Experience: Factory Visits with Gourmet Lunch and Wine Tasting
- Ferrari Lamborghini Pagani Factory and Museum Day Tour from Bologna
- Ferrari Ducati Lamborghini Factory and Museum Day Tour from Bologna
- Bologna Half-Day Walking Food Tour and Tasting for Small Group
- Local market visit and private cooking class at a local's home in Bologna
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