Bologna Top 10

10 things you must see and do during your stay in Bologna

The erudite, the red and the fat”: that’s how is typically defined Bologna in Italy. Bologna the erudite, because it is seat of one of the most antique Universities of the world, that is still attended from a lot of Italian and foreign students, and it maintains its role of very active cultural centre, always open to new and creative ideas. Bologna the red, because of the colour of the roofs of its houses, that maintains alive the typical colours of the medieval age. Bologna the fat, because has a tasty gastronomy: Bologna’s food could satisfy every palate. The perfect synergy between modernity and tradition is one of the principal elements of this city, which conquer its visitors: you could have a walk in Piazza Maggiore and admire the ancient buildings of the city, and at the same time, appreciate the cultural ferment that animate this open and tolerant city. The numerous important personalities that here were born and that still maintains connections with their home-town testify how the spirit of this city is projected in direction of new horizon: Pupi Avati (film director), Francesco Guccini (singer), Gianfranco Fini (politician) Stefano Accorsi (actor), Umbero Eco (medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist) just to make some names. Then, all you have to do is to read our suggestions: 10 things you must not miss in Bologna, to know the different characteristics of this city that only waits to be discovered.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna Bologna - Piazza Maggiore - Photo by Jessica Spengler

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

he heart of Bologna is Piazza Maggiore (Major square), centre of the religious and civil life of this city. It’s celebrated for the Fonatana di Nettuno (Neptune’s fountain) and for the ancient medieval buildings that give onto the square. The Palazzo comunale (City Hall), the Palazzo dei Bianchi, the imposing San Petronio Basilica and in front of the basilica the Palazzo del Podestà (Palace of the Podesta). All this buildings testify the story of this city from 1200, when Bologna’s city dwellers felt the necessity to have a market square. All the buildings that were here before were bought by the township and then pulled down, in the XV century the square was completed and took the austere appearance that we can see today. In spite of its historical importance this square has a light side too:** the students of the University of Bologna say that it’s bad luck to pass through the square from the centre, it must be crossed going along the borders.** They said that the students that don’t follow this device risk to never get the University degree.

Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna Bologna - Saint Petronio Basilica - Photo by DUILIO CAMARLINGHI

Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna

The Basilica of San Petronio is the most important church in Bologna and it’s the fifth largest church in the world. The construction of this church began in 1390 and continued for centuries. To make the space necessary to the construction of this enormous symbol of Bologna’s city dwellers devotion towers, houses and eight churches were pulled down. This is the last big Gothic church realized in Italy, with a Latin cross plan, with a nave, two side aisles and chapels. The decorations are in Gothic style too, the artists who contribute to make this masterpiece were the greatest of that period: Giovanni da Modena, Parmigianino, Giulio Romano and Masaccio. This Basilica has been for long time used from the township of Bologna as public building, in 1929 after the Patti Lateranensi (Lateran Pacts, were agreements made between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See), it returned property of the church. If you go visit this Basilica you must not miss the beautiful sundial made by Gian Domenico Cassini, which demonstrate that the Earth moves around the sun.

Information to visit the Basilica of San Petronio:
When: from 7,45 am to 12,30 pm and from 3 om to 6 pm.
How to get here: Bus n° 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 27, 29, 30, 86, A, B, and BLQ Aerobus

Asinelli's Tower Bologna - Asinelli's Tower - Photo by Michela

Asinelli's Tower

The towers are one of the main features of Bologna. Between the XII and XIII century a lot of towers was built, but nowadays less than twenty were left standing. These towers had a military and civil function: they gave prestige to the families which paid for their construction. The Asinelli’s tower was built between the 1109 and the 1119 under request of the Asinelli’s family, which used the tower also for military reasons. In 1448 the tower was equipped with a little stronghold to host soldiers. Nowadays the arch and the arcades, that can be found at the base of the tower, host workshops in memory of the commercial function of this city during the middle age. The visitors have to climb 498 wooden stairs to reach the top of this tower, that is 97,20 meters high. From there they can enjoy the beautiful view of Bologna’s red roofs. When the weather is good is possible to see (very far) the sea and the Alps.

Informations to visit the Asinelli’s Tower:
When: Summer from 9 am to 6 pm, Winter 9 am to 5 pm
Tickets: 3 €
How to get here: Bus n° 13, 14, 19, 25 and 27.

Basilica of Santo Stefano in Bologna Bologna - Santo Stefano Basilica - Photo by Francesco Gasparetti

Basilica of Santo Stefano in Bologna

Santo Stefano Basilica is an ensemble of sacred buildings that forms the complex known as “the seven churches”. The square that host this church is triangular-shaped (and has been recently restored) and this group of buildings comprehends the Church of Crocifisso, Basilica of the Sepulcher , San Vitale and Sant’Agricola Church, the Cortile di Pilato, the Martyrium Church, the Chiostro Medievale (the medieval cloister) and the Santo Stefano Museum. All the buildings are very ancient, and even if they were built in different periods they maintain a certain stylistic unity. This complex is the more interesting and best preserved Romanesque monument in Bologna. The project was probably made when the bishop Petronio, after a voyage in Jerusalem, in the V century, decided to make a reproduction in Bologna of the sacred city for Christendom. Because of various works this complex changed its old appearances until the reduction of the number of these churches, they were seven and now they are only four.

Informations to visit the Basilica of Santo Stefano:
When: Every day from 9 am to 12 pm and 15,30 pm – 6,30 pm
How to get here: Bus n° 11, 13, 19, 51, 62, 90 and 96

The Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna Bologna - Victorious Samson - Pinacoteca Nazionale

The Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna

In the building that hosted the Jesuit novitiate nowadays has its seat the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Art Gallery) of Bologna: one of the most important museum collections in Italy. The work here kept trace the history of the art in this region from the XIII to the XIX century. You can see painting of artists as Raffaello, Carracci, Reni and other personalities connected to Bologna. The first core of this museum was a donation made by Monsignor Francesco Zambeccari: then during the years, thanks to donations of private citizens, acquisitions and legacies, this Pinacoteca has become one of the most appreciated and known in Italy and Europe. The museum has thirty exposition rooms and spaces dedicated to temporary exhibitions and didactic activities. The Pinacoteca besides exposing, preserves, keeps and studies the artistic patrimony of the city of Bologna and of all the Emilia Romagna region.

When: from Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays, 9 am – 7 pm.
Never: Monday
Tickets: 4 €, reduced tickets 2 €
How to get here: bus n° 36 and 37

The arcades of Bologna Bologna - Arcades - Photo by Marieke Kuijjer

The arcades of Bologna

What would be Bologna without its arcades? This city is covered by arcades for almost 40 kilometres. The style of these can be very different, for example, you can see the elegant arcades of the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi or the painted arcades of Piazza Malpinghi. The arcades aren’t only an architectural element but they represent the essence of this city. In the summertime they are a perfect refuge from the sun and in the cold seasons a perfect refuge from the rain. This covered ways allow people to reach all the points of the centre of city. The origin of these arcades is dated back to the Middle Age when, in a moment of great expansion of the city, Bologna became favourite destination for men of letters and for people coming from the countryside. This population growth created the necessity of exploiting the open space of the city. In the past these arcades were made of wood, nowadays they are all made of stone, except for one, the arcade of Casa Isolani in Strada Maggiore, which is still made of wood. If you have a walk under the arcades you’ll remain charmed by the light and shadow games that change according to the seasons.

Eating in Bologna Bologna - Tagliatelle with ragù sauce - Photo by Jessica Spengler

Eating in Bologna

Bologna’s gastronomy is very known in Italy and in the world, the typical dishes of this region are often rated among the symbols of the quality made in Italy. The famed tortelli (egg pasta stuffed with vegetables and/or minced meat), for example, which are still hand prepared by experts and always served in vegetable stock. Egg pasta and pork are the real protagonists of the table, and the different combinations of these two ingredients made different tasty dishes. Among these: ragù (prepared with three different kinds of meat: pork, veal and beef), the tagliatelle, hand-made pasta prepared with flour and eggs, the lasagne, made of thin pasta sheets alternated with ragù, bechamel sauce and grated parmigiano, and the breaded cutlet, which is covered with cheese and a slice of ham. The pork is a very protagonist of Bologna’s food, therefore here has been invented the mortadella, which can be used to prepare the stuffing for the tortellini or a soft mousse used to flavour sandwiches. Among the pastries there’s the certosino: a Christmas cake made with honey, almonds, candied fruits, butter, raisins, cinnamon and dark chocolate.

Going out in Bologna Bologna - Going out - Photo by Ryan Holst

Going out in Bologna

The presence of the University in Bologna make this city very live and crowded of young people coming from Italy and from the foreign countries. The greatest number of clubs are in the surroundings of Piazza Maggiore, but the University quarter offers lovely entertainment too.
Here you can spend your night having a cocktail or a glass of wine listening to good jazz music or, if you prefer, dancing techno music. Discos are opened from 9 pm to 3 am, but some bar use to serve food and drink both day and night. Therefore Bologna isn’t just a city of arts, cultural and gastronomical destination: but it offers also a good quality of life for their inhabitants, it’s a city on a human scale even if is big and crowded.

Shopping in Bologna Bologna - Shopping streets - Photo by Revol Web

Shopping in Bologna

If you want to go shopping in this city you’ll have to know that, except for the gastonomy, there isn’t a great variety. The streets of shopping, according to the textile vocation of this city, are full of outlet and artisan workshops that realize made-to-measure shoes and dresses : Via Rizzoli, Via D’Azeglio, Via Farini and Via Castiglione (also known as “quadrilatero della moda” - quadrilaterals of fashion) are the streets were the greatest part of big names shops are concentrated, where Bologna shows its frivolous side. To make cheaper buy you can have a walk in Via Indipendenza: here you can find the major market chains but also little traditional workshops.
If you want bring home a little piece of the Bologna’s gastronomy you can go to the Mercato di Mezzo; while in Piazza 8 Agosto every Friday and Saturday there’s a street market in which you can find beautiful vintage dress, there’s an antique market in the same square every Thursday and in Piazza Santo Stefano every second week-end of the month.