A city of two halves – Bologna is an Italian fusion of proud elegance and traditional grit, perfectly combined in the medieval city. One side offers a waltz through the opera and theatre, with high-tech city spaces in between. While the other is edgy, gritty, and home to one of the best universities in Europe. So, is Bologna worth visiting?
Bologna is affectionately known by the locals as “la dotta, la rossa e la grassa“. This refers to the three main aspects of the city:
- la dotta – the educated, referencing the university
- la rossa – the red, highlighting the architecture and communist political background
- la grassa – the fat, referring to the incredible food
From mouth-watering cuisine to prestige car museums, beautiful architecture and historical sites to gritty art and trendy vibes; Bologna offers a unique experience of Italy, allowing tourists to discover a different side of this passionate country. If you’re thinking about visiting this Northern Italy city, here are nine awesome reasons that may help make your decision for you.
Gastronomic Capital Of Italy
Let’s be real, food is the main aspect of any vacation and should always be seriously considered before booking those tickets. Bologna is famous for its delicious food and is one of the top reasons to visit. In fact, this Italian city is Italy’s foodie hub. With the nickname ‘The Fat’, what can you expect from Bologna?
If you’re a lover of pasta and pizza, this is the place for you. Bologna is the birthplace of bolognese pasta, locally known as tagliatelle al ragù. The surrounding region, Emilia-Romagna, is also home to balsamic vinegar, parma ham, and parmesan. So you can expect exquisite food around every corner, in every resto, served with passion and love for food.
Bologna’s central markets are great for fresh fruit and pastries. Via del Pratello is a good lunch spot with plenty of restaurants to choose from with excellent people-watching seating. Via Zamboni is the student area and has plenty of options for a filling aperitif. But honestly, you can’t go wrong when choosing somewhere or something to eat in Bologna.
Head over to Ristorante Sotto l’Arco on Via Aretusi for a truly tantalizing dining experience. This Michelin star restaurant is one of the best places to eat in Bologna and is reason enough to answer the question of is Bologna worth visiting.
Impressive Churches and Architecture
Bologna is a place of historical significance for Italy and there are stories being told throughout the incredible architecture throughout the city. The city has been one of the most important urban centers for centuries, from before the Romans and middle ages until the modern day. During World War II a lot of the city center was destroyed, however, some significant buildings still remain.
To begin with, there are the seven churches of Santo Stefano. This collection of churches were built over a 600 year period all in varying styles and now forming one truly unique site.
You can then visit the Chiesa della Santa which has the mummified remains of Saint Catherine of Bologna – an 18th-century Italian mystic and writer. And then why not complete the church tour by visiting the San Domenico Basilica. This site has a Michelangelo statue and a piano that was used by Mozart during his time studying in Italy.
To continue your journey for amazing architecture and sites through Bologna, be sure to visit Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio. You should also visit the Madonna di San Luca perched on a hill about 10km southwest of the city center.
The Two Towers And Porticoes
Sticking on the theme of architecture, we’ve got to mention the Two Towers and Porticoes. Both are iconic to Bologna and a must-see, making Bologna worth visiting.
The Two Towers put the Leaning Tower of Pisa to shame. The smaller of the two, Garisenda, has a much more dramatic lean than the counterpart found in Pisa. You can’t climb this leaning tower, however, you can go up the sister medieval tower next door, Asinelli. This will cost you €3 and give you incredible views across the city. These towers are so significant to Italian culture that Dante even cited them in The Divine Comedy.
But then we have the Porticoes. This is an absolute must if you visit Bologna. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Porticoes line Bologna’s streets and bring a charm like no other to the city. See if you can find the old inscription “panis vita, canabis protectio, vinum laetitia” (bread is life, cannabis is protection, wine is fun) along the way, imagining what life would have been like with merchant stalls and markets centuries ago.
A Night At The Opera
If you do visit Bologna you have to find the time to have a night at the opera. The Teatro Comunale di Bologna is in the center of the city. It presents eight operas, each with six performances, during its November to April season. The building itself is breathtaking. It was built in 1763 and designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena.
Bologna has a rich history within the classical music world. 17th-century popular composers, including Vivaldi, Gluck, and Niccolò Piccinni, frequently shared their music in these same venues.
So get glammed up. Have a classy night out in Bologna, experience the culture, and soak up the beautiful atmosphere of the opera. This will be a night you’ll remember for a long time, making Bologna worth visiting.
Prestige Car Lover Day Trips
Bologna is the capital of prestige cars which gives you the best day trip opportunities. There are several museums in the area that you can visit, join tours, and lust over the Italian beauty. These include:
- Museo Ferruccio Lamborghini
- Industrial Heritage Museum
- Musée automobile PANINI
- Museo Ducati
- Enzo Ferrari Museum
There’s no denying that the Italians design beauty and this extends to the cars and motors. If you’re into your cars, this will be an awesome day out for you. Even if you are just mildly interested, visiting one of these museums from Bologna is worth it.
We highly recommend immersing yourself in the Ferrari story. They offer a selection of tours and package deals so you can see both the factory, the cars on the track, and then experience an F1 simulation. All of this is within a day’s tour of Bologna.
The north of Italy is renowned for its wine and Bologna is at the center. Situated in the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna’s vineyard farmers are passionate and dedicated, treating their vines as they do with their beloved children. Cesare and Silvia are the fifth generation of farmers in the Bolognese Hills, the passion is in their blood being passed down from generation to generation.
While you’re in Bologna, you have to jump on one of the wine tasting tours. There are some that are solely based in the city center, while others tour around the local vineyards offering you more depth into the region. Many of the trips include a lunch deal to make a full experience of it.
Lambrusco, both the name of the grape and the sparkling red wine that is made from the grape, is the most famous wine of Emilia Romagna and can be found throughout the city. Other grape varieties include:
Art Around Every Corner
If you’re an art lover then you’ll be in heaven visiting Bologna. There is art, both old and new, around every corner. Most of the churches display fantastic Renaissance pieces. The Pinacoteca Nazionale has art exhibits spanning from 200 AD to the Baroque period. Other museums for art buffs are:
- Municipal Art Collections, with art from the 14th to 19th centuries
- Galleria D’Arte Maggiore
- MAMbo, Bologna’s modern art museum
But it doesn’t stop there. Bologna has a thriving street art scene with incredible artists painted throughout the city. The city center and Porta Mascarella are the two best places to go for a stroll and spot some incredible street art. Make sure you take your camera along for the walk, you’re going to need it!
World Class University
The University of Bologna is one of the oldest universities in the world. This research university was founded in 1088 and was the first university in the sense of a higher-learning and degree-awarding institute. Academia is at the heart of Bologna just as much as the gastro scene.
As Italy’s top-rated university, this is an extremely popular choice for Erasmus students choosing to study a semester or year abroad. The Piazza Verdi sits amongst the university’s buildings and is filled with students and live music throughout the day. One of the most fascinating parts of the University of Bologna is the anatomical theatre – part of the medical school that was fully restored after the Second World War.
The education dream doesn’t stop there. Bologna is also home to Carpigiani Gelato University, somewhere truly unique! Here, you can take professional courses in making gelato, the Italian way. It’s part of the Gelato Museum in Bologna and they offer a range of courses and workshops for ice cream lovers. If you’re after something special, this may just be it making Bologna worth visiting.
When you visit Bologna you will notice that you aren’t part of an overwhelming crowd of tourists. This town is quiet and traditional, sticking true to its values, and has not become over-commercialized in the slightest. When you walk the streets you’ll hear Italian over English, you’ll feel as if you’re discovering somewhere new, you’ll be part of the real Italy.
You’ll often get a cafe to yourself and restaurants are reasonably priced across the city, unlike other Italian tourist destinations. The most expensive part for dining out is around the Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna.
As Bologna is not super touristy, it will be beneficial to learn a few Italian phrases to get by:
- Buongiorno – good morning
- Buonasera – good evening
- Ciao – informal hello and goodbye
- Grazie – thank you
- Dov’è il museo? – where is the museum?
- Quanto costa? – How much does it cost?
- Un altro, per favore – another one, please
Is Bologna Worth Visiting?
Overall, this little Italian city tucked away in the north is one not to be missed. If you value passion in food, traditional vibes, and authentic Italian culture, then Bologna is the place for you. There is so much to offer in Bologna and you would be a fool to skip visiting this beautiful city. So is Bologna worth visiting? It’s a giant yes from us!