Discover Bologna

Top 10 Things To Do On Your First-Time Visit To Bologna

Red roofs of Bologna

1. Admire Piazza Maggiore at sunset and/or at night. Truly special! Walk slowly through the square, sit at one of the outdoor cafés or on the steps of the Basilica of San Petronio; make sure to linger a bit to take in the atmosphere. Check out the shadow of the Neptune Statue projecting on the wall of Palazzo d’Accursio.

2. Be romantic in Piazza Santo Stefano. Piazzas are the social hubs of Italian towns and Bologna’s squares are no exception. This is a smaller square compared to Piazza Maggiore, but just as evocative – and certainly more intimate (hint: perfect for smooching!!). You’ll just have to try for yourself 😉

3. Wander the streets of the Quadrilatero, the medieval market where you can browse through the outside stands and old shops selling all sorts of delicacies. Here’s where you can buy all the most famous Bolognese and regional specialties to bring home: tortellini, tagliatelle and other hand-made pasta, mortadella, Parmigiano Reggiano, the signature Bolognese sauce ragù, and local wines like Pignoletto, Lambrusco and Sangiovese.

Tagliatelle Bologna

4. Eat all the Bolognese specialties! Tortellini, sage and butter tortelloni, tagliatelle al ragù, mortadella, crescentine with cold cuts and soft cheeses like stracchino and squaquerone; all to be washed down with the local white wine Pignoletto or red Lambrusco.

5. Burn off all that Bolognese food by hiking to the top of San Luca under the longest portico in the world – 3,8 km and 666 arcades. The reward is the beautiful sanctuary of the Basilica of San Luca at the top of the hill. A side note: the portico is a unique feature of Bologna; the city has 53 km of these arcades that began being built in the 11th century.

San Luca Bologna

6. Climb to the top of Torre Asinelli (another calorie-burning method, right?!). The tower, built at the end of the 11th century, is the symbol of Bologna along with the leaning Garisenda, rising next to it. It’s 498 steep and narrow steps to the top, but the view over the red roofs of Bologna and the surrouding green hills is worth it.


7. Visit the Archiginnasio, the first seat of the University of Bologna, the oldest university of the Western world, founded in 1088. Before the Archiginnasio was built between 1562 and 1563, lessons were held in private or rented houses, in religious venues and sometimes on the squares. The two-story building remained the seat of the university until 1803. Make sure you peek inside the gorgeous and fascinating Teatro Anatomico: this is where corpses were dissected for the first scientific studies of the human body. Not to miss is the library which, with more than 500,000 texts and 12,000 manuscripts, is the largest stocked civic library in Italy.

Teatro Anatomico Bologna

8. Browse the stores of top Italian designers at Galleria Cavour. Ok, this isn’t for everyone’s pockets! Splurge, if you can: choose among Armani, Gucci, Prada, Fendi and many more – if not, try to be content with simply admiring the beautiful Italian fashion!

9. Visit the Museum of the History of Bologna. Housed inside Palazzo Pepoli, the old residence of one the most important families in medieval Bologna, this museum traces the entire history of Bologna, from the Etruscan settlement known as Felsina to Roman Bononia to the height of its power during the Middle Ages and on through modern times.

10.  Finish off the day with an aperitivo at one of the many bars of the city center. A popular drink is the spritz, a drink originating in the Veneto made with Prosecco and Aperol (a bitter variant is made with Campari instead of Aperol). Remember you have full access to the rich buffet, usually laid out around 7 pm, and you can replenish your plate more than once!

Interested in booking a walking tour of Bologna? Get in touch with me! I’m a certified hiking guide and I lead private and group tours in the Bologna hills. Contact me at More info on my tours can be found here.

And now, enjoy a video of Bologna made by the Bologna Visitor Bureau!

27 thoughts on “Top 10 Things To Do On Your First-Time Visit To Bologna”

  1. Articolo ben fatto e con iconografia esauriente. Leggendolo viene davvero voglia di percorrere tutte le tappe descritte. Come bolognese d’hoc devo dire che riconosco nei dieci punti descritti le cose più interessanti e cool di questa splendida città.

  2. Abbiamo appena letto l’articolo e guardato il filmato qui a Malta. Che bello pensare che è la nostra città!!!!!!!!! I magnifici quattro

  3. Ahhhhh San Luca was my absolute favourite thing, but the eating wasn’t bad either…
    There was so much I wasn’t able to do, it would appear. But my next trip is coming up *very* soon….

  4. Bologna is a gorgeous city, and yes, I remember we had quite a feast for lunch AND for aperitivo. 🙂
    Visiting the Torre Asinelli is a definite must indeed, especially in the morning hours…

  5. We are thinking of visiting Bologna this December – will this still be a good time of year to visit?

    1. Yes, absolutely! Actually, it will be really nice, with the Christmas ligths, the Christmas tree on the piazza, the overall festive atmosphere…We’ve had much warmer and drier winters in the past few years, so the weather shouldn’t be an issue.

      1. Thank you Silvia. We have decided to base ourselves in Bologna for 5-6 days and do day trips to Parma, Modena, Florence as well as spend time getting to know your beloved Bologna.

      2. That sounds great! I think you’ll enjoy your time in the area. Good thinking about visiting nearby towns as well. I hope my blog will provide you with some useful info as you plan your trip. A presto!

  6. We are wondering if there are any Christmas markets you can recommend? Milan will be where we land and plan to see Genoa, Florence, Rome Cinque Terre, Bologna. Dec 1st-12th 2017.

    1. Hi Yvonne, I talk about one of Bologna’s best known Christmas markets here: I don’t know which are popular in the cities you mention. I know the Christmas markets of South Tyrol (Alto Adige), those are my favorite, but if that’s your itinerary, you won’t have enough time to go there. There is a great blog about Rome which talks about Christmas markets in Rome here: And for Florence you should check Hope this helps!

  7. I am interested in visiting the Archiginnasio, Bologna University. Is the school open to public to walk around? Do I need tickets to go in the building or theater?

    1. The Archiginnasio is open to the public. You can visit the courtyard, the halls on the first floor, the Stabat Mater room and the Anatomical Theater. There’s a 3 euro fee for the Anatomical Theater, you can buy the tickets at the entrance. Hope this helps!

  8. great post!
    Thanks for your suggestions.
    I’m visiting here in Bologna right now and am enjoying the open air movie fest. Sotto Le
    Stelle held at the Piazza Maggiore.
    Each evening after dinner, at dusk we stroll over to the piazza and join another 1500 or so movie lovers under the stars until …about midnight -or later.
    A perfect way to end the evening
    I LOVE Bologna!

    1. Hello Anna, thank you for your nice comment! I agree, the open air movie fest is lovely, one of my favorite summer events in Bologna actually! Enjoy your stay, glad you like the city!

  9. Hi Silvia, grazie per le tue proposte. Ho una domanda. Vogliamo visitare Bologna durante la prima settimana di agosto ma non sappiamo che questo momento è un buon tempo per visitarla. Grazie per la tua risposta! Diane da Belgio

    1. Buongiorno Diane, inizio agosto è un buon periodo, però farà molto caldo! Anche se ci sono i portici che proteggono dal sole 🙂 Comunque musei e negozi in genere saranno aperti. Buon viaggio!

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