“When is the best time to visit Bologna?” I often get asked.
My answer: it depends on what you like, the reasons for your visit, how long you’re going to be in town.
For example, I don’t like crowds and often try to travel in low season or, for day trips, on days during the week when I know some places are less congested than on weekends.
I also like to consider the effects of mass tourism, which I’d rather not see in my hometown, so far refreshingly spared from the ‘Disneyland effect’ happening in places such as Venice and Florence. That’s why I like to point out the benefits of traveling in months like November or February which are normally considered unappealing: fewer tourists, cheaper prices, shorter lines, better service, and the thing everyone seems to strive for these days: a more authentic experience.
So the usual advice, ‘come to Bologna (and Italy in general) in April/May/September/October’ feels a bit trite to me, also in light of the fact that the weather has changed in the past few years: winters have been getting milder and sunnier, so you may find pleasant days in Bologna even in January or (more likely) February, and November isn’t necessarily as rainy as it used to be (plus, for those who like food festivals, there’s still a bunch of those to enjoy such as November Porc for culatello, and Tartofla/Tartufesta for truffle).
Any season really is good if you know how to make the most of it.
Overall speaking, the sub-continental climate of Emilia-Romagna features hot and humid summers, especially in the vast plains inland, and cold temperatures (rarely below 0°C) with possible rainfall during winter. Milder temperatures and less humidity can be found along the coast. Fog can occur in the late fall/winter. But again, what you normally expect of the weather doesn’t seem to always apply anymore.
Let’s look at each season so you can get a better idea of when is the best time to visit Bologna for you.
Bologna in Summer
Summer is my favorite season, but probably the one I’d least recommend for visiting Bologna, unless you like it hot and humid. Early June is usually still bearable, but July and August are miserable, with average temperatures of 35-36°C and 100% humidity.
While we’re lucky to have miles of porticos to shade us from the sun (and from the rain!), the heat will tire you out. I’d suggest to intersperse sightseeing in Bologna and nearby towns with outings to the hills where it’s a little fresher (I can help!), and to the seaside (Bologna is about an hour from the Adriatic coast).
A highlight of summer in Bologna is the wonderful ‘Cinema sotto le stelle’ when Piazza Maggiore becomes an outdoor movie theater with a large screen projecting movies in the original language and chairs placed on the crescentone (the raised pavement in the center of the square). It usually runs mid-June to mid-August in the evenings (movies start at 10 pm). Sitting in the piazza under the stars, surrounded by medieval buildings, with a gentle breeze blowing, will make you forget (and forgive) the heat of daytime!
Bologna in the Fall
No doubt this is a nice time to be in town. The weather in September and October in Bologna is still warm, but has lost the stickiness of the previous months. Plus autumn is usually food festivals time, so you have the option to travel to the countryside and villages near Bologna to discover local ‘sagre’, taste famous products and mingle with the locals. There’s a mortadella festival, a Lambrusco festival, truffle festivals, tortellini, wine festivals, chestnuts, and many more.
The downside to the good weather and number of events (not just in Bologna, but pretty much in all of Italy) is that the months of September and October can be very crowded with other tourists.
If you wish to avoid that, consider perhaps coming late October/November.
Oh, and the fall colors! If you love walking in nature, like me, this is an ideal time to go on a walking tour in the hills near Bologna.
Bologna in Winter
December is holiday season and you may enjoy seeing the festive atmosphere in town, with the lights on, the Christmas markets, the chance to taste some Christmas treats and the perfect weather to eat a piping hot bowl of tortellini in brodo.
January is usually the coldest month in Bologna, but not so cold that you can’t be out.
The fact that the days are shorter isn’t necessarily a negative; I actually think that Bologna is more charming at night than during the day. (If you’ve ever stood in the center of Piazza Maggiore or walked some of the tiny streets of the city center when it’s dark, you know what I’m talking about). Plus the city is so lively that it won’t be deserted when it gets dark, on the contrary you’ll still see many people out and about shopping or having aperitivo with friends.
Bologna no longer gets much snow in the winter; snowfall is more likely in the Apennine mountains south of Bologna, so if you like snowshoeing, that’s an idea for a day trip! (Skiing isn’t that great in the Bologna Apennines; if you come to Italy for skiing, go to the Dolomites.)
I’d say traveling to Bologna in winter is probably best for those coming for a weekend or short break.
Bologna in the Spring
Is there still such a thing as the spring season? It seems like in the past years we went straight from winter to summer, at least in terms of temperature. The spring is also traditionally unpredictable (marzo pazzerello, aprile non ti scoprire), and nowadays even more so. If you opt for the spring, May would probably be your safest bet, but again, it’s a busy time in terms of tourism.
Spring is a fantastic season for going on walking tours in the hills that surround Bologna (and you won’t find as many people there!), nature wakes up, flowers are in bloom, it’s super green, it’s cherry season (ever heard of the cherries of Vignola?), and the joy that pervades the natural world is contagious. It’s a definite yes for traveling to Bologna in the spring, just be aware you won’t be the only one here!
So to sum up, every season offers something for traveling to Bologna. Consider your reasons for visiting Bologna and Emilia-Romagna and decide based on that. Also think outside the box and realize there are many things you can do and places to explore overlooked by the majority that can make your experience much more unique, no matter the weather.
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