Do you think it is possible to get the full taste of Italy without visiting Milan or Rome? Most of you would think no; but believe me, Bologna offers the best that Italy has to offer without the touristy gimmicks and huge crowds. Therefore, Bologna is a must-see for travellers to Italy!
What comes to mind when you think about Italy? For me, it is the gorgeous ancient architecture, heaping cones of delicious gelato and winding alleys with painted shutters and mopeds.
Whatever you may be picturing, it surely doesn't involve massive swarms of people crowding the most beautiful places. However, this is how most of the people experience Italy each year.
Instead of trying to battle huge crowds and desperately looking for authentic Italian fare, why not choose a relaxed Bologna itinerary that highlights hidden gems as well as the major highlights of the city.
Bologna is the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region located in the northern part of Italy. Though it is usually ignored on most tourists' travel itineraries in favour of other more famous Italian cities, it has a lot to offer in terms of history, culture, art, and fantastic food.
Spending 2 days in Bologna will give to a chance to explore a lot, from world-class museums to serene parks, beautiful churches and much more!
There is no better place to start your 2 day vacation in Bologna than the historical city centre. The city centre is home to many of the most significant and impressive landmarks in the city.
To get a taste of the local life and learn in-depth about the history of this gorgeous town, step off the normal tourist trail and visit the sites with a local tour guide or join a private guided tour.
Visit important landmarks including Piazza Maggiore and Basilica di San Petronio, as well as off-beat locations like Quadrilatero.
Piazza Maggiore is the heart of the city of Bologna. It is the central square of the city surrounded by gorgeous medieval buildings on all sides.
Also known as the city centre, it is home to the most famous buildings in the area including Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo d'Accursio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo dei Bianchi, and Palazzo del Podestà. It was given the name Piazza Maggiore in 1945 after the Italian King Vittorio Emanuele II.
It is the perfect place to begin exploring the city as all the important attractions can be accessed easily from here. Take a moment to look around, admire the renaissance-style architecture around the square and witness the local Bolognese culture.
Right before stepping into Piazza Maggiore, the first thing you will see is the impressive Piazza del Nettuno. On reaching the square, you will immediately be drawn to the iconic Fountain of Neptune.
The renowned statue of Roman God Neptune is an icon of the city of Bologna. Affectionately known as ‘Il Gigante’, the statue is enthroned in the traffic-free zone of the city centre. The Fountain of Neptune is undoubtedly one of the most iconic sights in the city.
The 3.35 m high imposing bronze statue depicts God Neptune with his trident elevated high into the sky. Nymphs and Putti gather down near his feet. The tridents is adorned with a number of symbols including the company logo of Maserati.
Just a short walk away from the square is the gorgeous Basilica di Santo Stefano.
This is not just one church but an entire complex comprising of seven different churches built in different ways at different periods of time. As a result, each of the church possesses a different style, making each of them unique; yet they all come together beautifully to form one wondrous structure.
This is undoubtedly one of the best experiences in Bologna. You are free to enter the church, but you can leave donations if you wish to. Enter through the Church of Holy Crucifix, and then you can move from one church to the other to see the different tombs, artefacts and bones housed here.
Another important landmark on Piazza Maggiore that deserves your attention is San Petronio Basilica. With its interesting unfinished façade and huge size, there is no way for this grand house of worship to go unnoticed. It is said to be the largest church in the world built entirely in bricks.
The bottom part of the façade is decorated with ornate marble, but the rest still has exposed brick; so it is considered to be unfinished. However, once you step inside, the gorgeous interior filled with uniquely designed chapels will leave your spell-bound.
Another impressive sight here is the marker that displays the meridian line that was drawn to help Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the famous astronomer, carry out measurements to calculate the timing of important events like solstice and equinox.
After you finish admiring the classy interior of the church, you can move to the rear of the basilica and head to the church tower. You can take an elevator and reach the top, from where you can be mesmerized by the panoramic city views. It serves as a great picture stop as well.
After crossing Piazza Maggiore, head down a few narrow alleys to discover the historic neighbourhood called Quadrilatero. Built during Middle Ages, it was the hub of trades and guilds in the city of Bologna.
As you wander through this neighbourhood, you will come across numerous porticos, towers, and palaces. It is said to be one of the oldest areas in the city.
At present, it is a sprawling marketplace, filled with shops selling traditional foods as well as all the ingredients required to prepare a traditional Bolognese meal.
You can find a variety of food ingredients here, such as pasta types, cheeses, meats, and much more. Gather up some ingredients and cook yourself a traditional Bolognese meal while you are here.
After a morning full of exploring, it’s time to head over for some authentic Bolognese food to refuel yourself for the rest of the day.
Try the special lunch at Va Mo La, a traditional Bologna-style food joint offering home-made dishes. The restaurant has a homely and warm vibe and is filled with locals all the time.
It used to be a bookstore previously and still maintains the same ambience.
The menu offers traditional dishes of the region made using the freshest ingredients. The restaurant also offers an exquisite wine list covering different parts of Italy, that too at reasonable prices. Try ‘Ragu’ – the most popular pasta dish in the restaurant.
The city of Bologna has been renowned for centuries due to its many towers. Fondly known as ‘Turrita’, there were more than 200 towers in the city’s skyline during the medieval times. The main reason behind this was the competitive nobles of the city trying to show off their opulence.
At present, there are about 20 towers in the city, two of which stand out amongst others – Asinelli Towers and Garisenda Towers. These two leaning towers are the main symbols of Bologna. Commonly known as ‘Two Towers’, the structures were built during the 12th century.
Over the years, they have served a number of roles from fortifications to union houses. Even though they are leaning, they are completely safe. You can even reach the top of the Asinelli Tower by climbing its 496 steps.
A defining feature of Bologna is the long arcade that runs on both sides of Via Rizzoli. Created for the historic porticos in the area, you can walk through the long pedestrian boulevards and indulge in tons of window shopping and try numerous tasty street food options.
The streets here are lined with shops, cafes and banks, providing it a contemporary image. This stretch of road connects the Piazza Maggiore with the city’s main symbol ‘Two Towers’.
Via Rizzoli was built at the start of the 20th century, the street has been named after renowned orthopedist Francesco Rizzoli, one of the notable figures of the city.
End your first day of Exploration of Bologna at the Archiginnasio of Bologna.
Previously home to the oldest European University, the ceilings and walls of this magnificent building are covered with writings and coats of arms, narrating the entire story of the building.
The highlight of this visit would be witnessing the Anatomical Theatre. The intricate wooden carvings, wood panelling, imposing marble table, and the numerous busts and status inside this magical theatre are a sight to behold.
The university was damaged during World War II; however, it has now been painstakingly recreated to look the same as it once did.
The University of Bologna came into existence in 1088. However, Pope Pius IV ordered the construction of this building in the 16th century to consolidate the entire university into a single place.
After a full day of exploration, it’s time to wind down and enjoy a delicious dinner at Cantina Bentivoglio Café, coupled with amazing live jazz music.
It is one of the best jazz clubs and wine bars in the city, but the food offered here is equally impressive. The menu offers traditional delicacies belonging to the Emilia-Romagna region along with a variety of national and local wines.
The restaurant is set inside the wine cellar of a former palazzo; so the view is intimate yet grand. Try the traditional Bolognese dishes and pair it with a wine of your choice. Then relax while soaking up the feel-good vibes from the jazz music and authentic charm of the place.
On your second day in the city of Bologna, it’s time to visit some of the best museums in the city as well as venture into the parts of the city away from the touristy hot spots.
We’ll also hike up a hill and visit Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca to enjoy breathtaking views of the city and surrounding areas.
Begin your second day in Bologna with a cup of freshly brewed coffee along with delicious pastries on Via Saragozza.
This is a busy street filled with numerous little coffee shops, local trattorias and boutique stores. It is part of Portico di San Luca, the longest arcade in the world and connects Santuario di San Luca with Porta Saragozza.
Before heading on for a long day of exploration, get your hit of caffeine at a quaint café called Neri Pasticceria located on Via Saragozza. They serve delicious coffee along with fresh and light freshly baked pastries.
Being a densely packed historical hub, there is a shortage of green and open spaces in Bologna. To find a green space, you will need to head towards the northern part of the city to Montagnola Park.
Built by Napoleon in the year 1805, the park is located on the ruins of Castello di Galliera. A perfect place for taking some fantastic photos, it is best known for the stunning staircase present here known as Scalinata Del Pincio.
A striking fountain adorned with sculptures of a seahorse, and a nymph is also present between the grand stairways.
Bologna being a city filled with historical landmarks, it is surprising to see a world-class museum located in the city.
Located near Piazza Maggiore, the Museo Civico Archeologico is housed within a vast 15th-century palace, which is a gorgeous location in itself. The exhibits are majorly focused on the ancient world with grand displays on ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Etruscans of Italy.
It houses the rich archaeological collections from the excavations carried out in Bologna and the surrounding region during the late 19th century. It is an excellent representation of the local history, ranging from the prehistoric to the Roman times.
The museum also houses some local exhibits documenting the lives of Romans in Bononia, the previous name of Bologna.
Moving on to another museum, the Medieval Museum in Bologna is a truly magical place with its incredible frescos and amazing interiors. Located inside Palazzo Ghisilardi, it houses great exhibits that display the highs and lows that the city of Bologna went through during Middle Ages.
You can view great exhibits of grand bronze statues, suits of armours, illuminated manuscripts, monumental tombs and handcrafted objects belonging to that particular period. There are displays related to the city’s acclaimed university as well.
The museum opened its doors in the year 1985 inside Palazzo Ghisilardi-Fava and is an extremely important part of the history of the region.
Located a reasonable distance away from the city centre, perched on top of a hill, the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca offers a lot more than just looking at the church.
There is a covered arcade comprising of 666 arches beginning from Arco Del Meloncello and going right up to the century located 3.8 km away. You can either choose to take a long hike up to the Santuario or go for the San Luca Express, which is a toy train that will take you up to the Sanctuary from Piazza Maggiore for €10.
Whichever method you choose, you will be able to enjoy breathtaking views of the entire city of Bologna along with the gorgeous landscape surrounding it.
On the way back from the sanctuary, stop for a bite at Trattoria Casa Mia, a traditional Bolognese Restaurant on via Saragozza.
Many people visit Bologna more for the food than sights, and you will understand why. This classic, cosy eatery is popular with the locals, so you can be sure that you will get an authentic experience.
The menu comprises of dishes made with fresh and regional produce. The restaurant also offers an incredible wine list. Try the classic lasagna or go for tortellini al brodo, both of which are specialities of this eatery.
Keep in mind that the portions served here are quite large, so keep that in mind while ordering.
After the delicious lunchtime meal, the next stop is MAMbo, the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna. The space is architecturally exciting and houses numerous works of art from talented local artists as well as famous artists from around the world.
Exhibits are divided by theme and offer an insight into the evolution of art in Italy from World War II to the present day. It also has a dedicated international collection featuring works from talented artists around the globe.
The museum maintains a good balance between its rotating exhibits and the permanent collection, ensuring that there is something new whenever a person visits.
The museum has also played host to Museo Morandi, a collection of thought-provoking and fascinating works by world-renowned painter Giorgio Morandi.
The museum is a must-visit attraction for any person who appreciates modern art.
Another must-visit church here is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Bologna. Though you may not find it extremely impressive from the façade along but once you enter inside, you will be amazed at the exquisite interiors done with marble and frescoes.
It is believed that there was a church present here before the 11th century as well. However, the present-day cathedral was unveiled in 1184 after a fire.
After admiring the striking interiors of the cathedral, you can head over to the bell tower and enjoy the stellar views from there as well.
For dinner on your final day in Bologna, take the off the beaten track and head to La Fastuchera for a unique experience.
La Fastuchera is a lovely Sicilian restaurant located a little outside the heart of the city. The food here is amazing, and the menu is a bit different from typical Bolognese trattoria. You will find a wide variety of exciting and fresh dishes along with charming and unpretentious service.
The atmosphere is elegant and warm, and you can enjoy your food in the charming garden terrace as well. Start the meal with an aperitivo of zesty and fresh negronis. Try the special swordfish dish they serve here; it’s exquisite.
The perfect way to end your short 48 hour stay in Bologna would be to enjoy a few drinks with the locals in the lively part of town.
Head over to Via Del Pratello, the street known for bustling crowds of students and local residents along with visitors who wish to mingle with the local residents of the city. Mingling with each other and sharing stories with their drinks of choice is local Bolognese tradition.
You will find numerous historic pubs, trendy bars and wine bars; so many options that you would be spoilt for choice. Try bar-hopping along this lively street and soak up the nightlight of Bologna.
Visiting the entire city of Bologna in 2 days can be a whirlwind. There is a lot to see, a lot to do, and a lot to experience here. Hopefully using this 2 day itinerary for Bologna, you will be able to visit the most important landmarks of the city without the need to rush too much.
It will also take you a bit off the beaten track and help you discover some of the hidden gems that will give you insight into Italian culture.
After this amazing weekend in this culturally-rich city, you will definitely leave with a pleasant taste of everything the city has to offer!
This article was edited by Loredana Elena and was first published on Mar 8, 2020 17:42 UTC.
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