View of Bologna's rooftops and medieval towers
Discover Bologna

Bologna 101: Practical Information to Navigate the City

Must-have info for first-timers and anyone who needs guidance about Bologna’s transport, where to stay/be, when to visit, stores and restaurants opening hours, and all those practical details needed when traveling to a new city, plus lots of useful links for planning your visit, all compiled in one place!

  • If you arrive in Bologna by train

You will get off at Bologna Centrale, which is the city’s main train station, located on Piazza Medaglie d’Oro, at the northern edge of the city center. It’s a 20/25-minute walk to Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main square.

Outside Bologna's train station
Piazza Medaglie d’Oro, right outside Bologna’s train station.

If you arrive via high-speed rail, you’ll probably get off at the Alta Velocità-AV (high speed) tracks, which are two levels below ground. Follow signs for Piazza Medaglie d’Oro to get out at the main exit.

Several buses going into the city center stop right outside the station; there is a taxi stand to the right as you exit from the main hall (atrio centrale), or you’ll find them right in front of you if you exit from the side hall.

Bologna Centrale is one of Italy’s major train transportation hubs, being located at the intersection of the main north-south and east-west routes. Therefore, it is always very busy. Pay attention to your belongings.

If you’re only in Bologna for a few hours, there’s a luggage deposit service in from of track ‘7 Ovest’.

train at Bologna Centrale train station
Bologna Centrale is one of Italy’s major rail transportation hubs.

Train travel times between Bologna and major Italian cities:

From Florence to Bologna: 35 minutes

From Rome to Bologna: two hours and 25 minutes

From Milan to Bologna: one hour

From Venice to Bologna: one hour and 25 minutes

For all the details about Bologna’s train station, read this article I wrote for Italy Magazine.

  • If you fly into Bologna

Bologna has one airport, Guglielmo Marconi (BLQ), which is a 15-minute drive from the city center. It is very well connected to the rest of Europe, thanks to major and low-cost airlines flying here. It now also has a direct flight to the U.S. (Philadelphia), operating in the summer months.

From the airport, you can get into the city center by:

  • Taxi – fare is approximately €22-25.
  • Aerobus, a shuttle that runs every 11 minutes every day of the year, from 5:30 am to 12:15 am, dropping you off at the train station or Via dei Mille in the city center (an approximately 20/25-minute ride). You can buy your ticket online here. It costs €6.
  • (Soon to be active) People Mover will connect the airport to the train station in 7 minutes using an above-the-ground rail.

Car rental companies with offices at the airport can be found here.

  • If you drive into Bologna

The main highways you’re likely to be on when driving into Bologna are:

A1 Milan-Bologna-Florence-Naples

A14 Bologna-Rimini-Ancona-Bari

A13 Bologna-Ferrara-Padova-Venezia-Trieste

Check directions with your hotel; they will need to register your license plate so you don’t get a ticket for entering the ZTL, the restricted traffic zone (roughly corresponding to the historic city center).

  • Where To Be / Where to Stay

Most of Bologna’s main monuments, museums and food markets are located within the historic city center, which is encircled by the ‘viali di circonvallazione,’ the avenues that form a ring road around what were once the 13th-century walls (today, only the old access gates remain).

The area inside the viali is where you want to stay as it will allow you to explore the city center on foot without having to bother with buses and taxis. Also, you’ll be close enough to the train station that you can walk there if you decide to go on day trips to Modena, Ferrara, Parma, Ravenna, Rimini, Florence, Venice, Milan, etc. (I told you Bologna is very well connected to the rest of Italy by rail 😉 )

1640-map-of-bologna
1690 map of Bologna beats Google map 😉  Notice how the historic city center still has the same urban layout.

If you, like me, prefer the countryside and hills, then by all means explore the options available outside the city center, and there are plenty because, as you can see from the map above, and as I often point out myself, Bologna is surrounded by beautiful hills and countryside that are very close to the city.

  • Bus transport

The local bus company is called T>per. You’re not going to need the bus if you’re staying in the city center, although you may want to take it to reach the beginning of the famous Portico di San Luca walk (bus no. 20), otherwise it’s about a 40-minute walk.

If you’re staying in neighborhoods outside the city center, then you’ll most likely need to take the bus depending on how far out you are. Bus transportation is generally efficient in Bologna, however, it will take you time as traffic is generally bad, and you won’t have the option of easily get back to your hotel for a post-tortellini-lunch nap.

You can buy bus tickets ­­­­­­­­­­­­­ at the ‘tabaccaio’ (stores that display a sign with a big white T on a blue background) or newspaper’s stands, or directly on the bus, but you need to have exact change. It costs €1,30 at the store, €1,50 if you buy on the bus (validity 75 minutes).

  • Taxi

Taxis tend to be expensive. Below are the phone numbers for Bologna’s two taxi companies:

Cotabo +39.051372727

CAT +39.0514590

Note: there’s no Uber in Bologna!

The courtyard of the Archiginnasio in Bologna
Courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the first unified seat of the famous University of Bologna.
  • Hotels

Bologna is a big convention center and if you happen to be in the city during a major event, you’ll have a hard time finding a room at a reasonable price. Check the calendar for major fairs here. Big ones are Sana, Cersaie, Cosmoprof, ArteFiera, MotorShow, (takes place in Modena, but will affect accommodation in Bologna), Children’s Book Fair.

I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite hotels in Bologna.

Renting an apartment makes sense when staying for more than a week, but the average stay in Bologna is 2/3 nights, and for short stays I emphasize staying in hotels rather than Airbnb (please remember when many apartments in historic city centers are turned into vacation rentals, this complicate things for residents – a balance is needed).

  • When to visit

Your best bet to find good sunny weather without it being too hot or too cold is to visit in March/April/May and September/October, although, due to climate change, the weather has become a bit unpredictable (this year, May felt like winter, and February felt like spring). June is usually still bearable for the heat and November is usually not too cold.

Avoid July and August, when it’s stifling hot and humid (head to the mountains of northern Italy instead! I may start leading tours there from next summer – stay tuned).

Don’t rule out the winter months entirely. For European visitors, it may make for a cool (literally and figuratively) weekend break. Cold weather is perfect for tortellini in brodo anyway!

Generally, since mass tourism is an issue and it’s only going to get worse, I encourage those who can to travel in the low season, which definitely has its perks (lower crowds, lower prices, more authenticity).

View of Bologna's rooftops and medieval towers
(Almost) any season is good for visiting Bologna, charming with its red rooftops and medieval towers.
  • Opening hours

Stores

Many of the bigger stores, especially chains, are now open ‘orario continuato’, all day, approx. from 9:30-10 am to 7-7:30 pm. Smaller independent stores tend to close between 12:30-1 pm to 3:30 pm.

Food stores and delis also close between 1 pm and 4.30-5 pm, although those in the most touristy spots may remain open.

Bologna’s two food markets are open all day:

Mercato delle Erbe, via Ugo Bassi 23 – open 7 am to midnight (2 am on Fridays and Saturdays).

Mercato di Mezzo, via Clavature 12 – open 9 am to midnight.

Restaurants

Restaurants start serving lunch around 12:30 pm until about 2:30 pm, dinner around 7 pm until about 10:30 pm.

dish of tagliatelle al ragù from Bologna
One of Bologna’s signature dishes: tagliatelle al ragù.
  • Pharmacies

Conveniently located in Piazza Maggiore 6, Lloyds Farmacia Centrale is open 24/7.

The pharmacy at the airport, located on the ground floor, is open 5 am to 8 pm every day.

At the train station: open  from 7.30 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays and public holidays.

  • Bologna’s Tourist Office

Bologna Welcome is located on Piazza Maggiore, under the portico in front of the big church (San Petronio). It’s open 9 am to 7 pm every day, 10 am to 5 pm on Sundays. This is where you can get maps of the city and ask for information, and also where you’ll need to go to buy tickets to access the Torre Asinelli,  the big medieval tower symbol of Bologna that you can climb (you can also buy the ticket online).

  • What to See in Bologna

Below is a list of articles from my blog which I think are useful to plan your visit to Bologna. For all articles specific to Bologna, click this link.

What to see in and around Bologna in one/two/three days

Three things you never knew about Bologna

Where to get the best panoramic views of Bologna

Climbing Bologna’s Asinelli Tower

Piazza Maggiore area:

Piazza Maggiore: the heart of town

The story behind Bologna’s Fountain of Neptune

Eight things to know about Bologna’s Basilica of San Petronio

Politics and power: visiting Bologna’s Palazzo d’Accursio

Itineraries:

Bologna for food lovers

La Turrita: explore Bologna through its ancient towers

A portico-themed tour of Bologna

If you’d like to book a tour with me, check my Tours page. I’m constantly working on adding new tours, so the list is not complete (currently working on one focused on walk + balsamic vinegar and one on walk + Parmigiano Reggiano).

If you found this article useful, please share it via the buttons below!

6 thoughts on “Bologna 101: Practical Information to Navigate the City”

  1. Thank you so much for this Silvia. We are visiting Bologna for the first time in October and I am so excited. I will read everything here with great interest. Regards, Helen Dalladay 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.