Bologna city guide: where to stay, eat, drink and shop in Italy’s foodie paradise
FUnderrated fun, this foodie paradise is Italy’s seventh largest city, full of breathtaking medieval architecture and sprawling piazzas. The city sparkles with vibrant activity, its world-class cultural institutions hosting year-round events for a bustling population of students and intellectuals.
There’s also a distinct lack of mass tourism – you won’t see busloads of day-trippers or queues in the galleries – so you can just fall into the flood of locals (especially if you add a bit of locals). ‘Italian to your directory). Beloved by its peasants, Bologna has not one but three nicknames; La Dotta (“The Learned”) in honor of its 11th century university, hailed as the oldest in Europe; La Rossa (“The Red”) for the city’s leftist politics; and, most importantly, La Grassa (“The Fat”), a nod to its notoriety as the Italian capital of gastronomy.
What to do
Eat your way around town
The top priority of any trip to Bologna is local food and knowing where to eat it. Bolognese is known in the region as Tagliatelle al Ragu, and it goes without saying that his hometown serves up a plate of the good stuff. Bologna’s other quintessential dish is tortellini in broth – usually chicken – which is every bit as comforting as you’d imagine chicken pasta soup. Making reservations for dinner plans is a must, now more than ever (check out our “Where to Eat” section below for some recommendations to get you started), but you might want to make a day of it, visit the food markets, or book a food tour and cooking class on your own with knowledgeable guides on the Taste Bologna or Delicious Bologna tours.
Admire the architecture
Bologna is home to a list of beautiful Renaissance buildings spared by developers of bygone eras, from the Unesco-listed porticoes (covered walkways) that frame the old university as well as Piazza Maggiore and Santo Stefano, to a total of 20 towers – most notably ‘Le Due Torri’ of the Asinelli tower and the Garisenda tower. Climb the former for stunning city views and note how the latter is even leaner than its Pisan counterpart. Take a stroll around the illustrious main square of Piazza Maggiore to admire the Basilica of San Petronio, as well as the breathtaking palaces that surround it.
Refresh your Italian cinema
Cineteca di Bologna is the dedicated film institute that preserves, restores and promotes local film heritage. Born in the 1960s, the Cineteca has been based for almost 20 years in its current trendy building – it’s where you can see the best of Italian cinema, alongside current and international releases. The organization is behind the annual Visioni Italiane film festival, whose 28th edition will be held in Bologna from November 2 to 6, 2022, as well as the outdoor summer screenings you will see in Piazza Maggiore during the summer months. ‘summer.
Go back to college
The University of Bologna, or UniBo to its friends, is not only an architectural marvel and the seat of an exceptional education (it is the highest ranked university in the country). It also contains an assortment of mini-museums, including collections of medieval anatomy and exhibits of Renaissance paintings.
Don’t forget to visit the Archiginnasio, the former site of the university, which includes a 17th-century anatomical amphitheater and a captivating ancient library, before heading to the current site of Palazzo Poggi, home to UniBo since 1803 Individual museums have varied and unpredictable opening hours, so check online ahead of time.
Where to stay
Bologna offers a great selection of bed and breakfasts in the old city center, with vibes ranging from chic to minimalist. AB Suite Innovative Design B&B — a renovated 1850s hotel that’s been given a boutique-style makeover — is a great choice just east of the university. Doubles from £70. absuitinnovativedesign.it
For something even more central, look for BLQ01 Boutique B&B in the Quadrilatero, a charming stay that has a bohemian atmosphere and a super friendly host, who serves a delicious breakfast. Doubles from £92. http://blq01.it/en/calderini
If you’re more inclined to book a stay that offers the works, the misleadingly named Student Hotel Bologna is for you. A trendy and sizable building just north of the station, its co-living and co-working quarters were designed for nomads and remote workers. It has an outdoor pool and an indoor gym, as well as some of the largest venues in town. Doubles from £81 a night, long stay discounts available. thestudenthotel.com/bologna/
For mountains with character, head to Phi Hotel Bologna – Al Cappello Rosso, a tastefully restored hotel that has been welcoming guests since 1345. The property, which began life as a 14th-century inn, has always welcomed visitors for 600 years and is now a four-star delight, with local modern art on the walls and a divine but small restaurant. Doubles from £87. phihotelbologna.com/hotel
Where to eat
Unlike its sister cities that attract tourists, you’re more likely to get a good bite here than a mediocre bite – whether snacking in a bar or sitting down to spend the night. The Osteria del Cappello, tucked away in the aforementioned Phi Hotel Bologna – Al Cappello Rosso, is a remarkable, tavern-worthy spot at the top of your hit list. This place has been serving visitors the best Bolognese cuisine since 1345, making it the oldest restaurant in town. It’s an intimate size, with just six tables, so be sure to book whether you’re a hotel guest or not, and be sure to try the fried tortellini.
While Ruggine is technically a bar, it serves tempting dishes all day long, with pastas, burgers and revisited salads. Tucked away in a downtown alley, the rustic decor of this former bicycle repair shop (roar means “rust”) spills out into the street, invading the sidewalk with mouth-watering dishes and exceptional cocktails. The staff are always happy to make recommendations, so chat with them about the menu.
Bologna is a meat-lover’s paradise, but that doesn’t mean there’s no shortage of good vegan outposts. Botanical Lab Cucina is a classy herbal affair that is very reasonably priced considering how fancy it is. Vegan pastas are plentiful, as are Mediterranean fusion plates. Don’t miss the cashew-based cheesecakes, whether you’re a carnivore or herbivore.
where to drink
Whatever the time, be sure to drop by Caffe Rubik for some of the best people-watching opportunities in town. Serving strong Italian coffees by day and cocktails by night, its walls are lined with shelves filled with cassette tapes, porcelain teapots and vintage toys, punctuated with works by local artists. Café de la Paix has the same relaxed vibe all day long, with an added sustainable and fair philosophy.
To see Bologna in full force, step into Osteria del Sole, the city’s oldest wine bar. With a pleasantly unassuming facade, it’s a busy watering hole that’s popular for graduation parties – and trust us when we say Italian college graduation celebrations are really something something to see (you’ll never forget the song). You can even bring your own food with you, if you’re not already stuffed full of your culinary adventures.
For an interactive evening, head to Senza Nome, whose bar staff who are deaf or hard of hearing will offer sign language tips or flashcards, but all are lip-readers if your communication skills aren’t. good. There are great snacks in this high-ceilinged bar, but if it’s delicious decor you’re after, Le Stanze, whose elegant, faded Renaissance wall and ceiling paintings will dazzle you as much as the cocktails.
Where to shop
Nothing says “I’ve been to Italy” like a new pair of handcrafted leather shoes, and the Bologna branch of Milan-based shoe makers Velasca is the place to go for chic oxfords and other fine footwear. Their store on the corner of Piazza Maggiore is a fun visit (not the usual austere shoe-selling environment) in a converted garage, complete with industrial decor and neon lights.
Make yourself popular and take home a lovely package of vacuum-sealed tortellini from La Casa del Tortellino, which sells freshly made artisan pasta from its lab-slash-food-bar. It’s a bit far from the city center, but close to the airport, so make a pit stop if you’re going that way.
Like many student cities, Bologna has a big vintage clothing scene. Take the time to explore and find that one-of-a-kind, pre-loved shirt at La Leonarda, Humana Vintage Bologna and Zero Vintage – all of which offer quality collections and have lovely staff. If you like bric-a-brac, there is also a large weekly flea market on Fridays and Saturdays in Piazza VIII Agosto.
Bologna has a rich history of natural science, and La Bottega dei Minerali taps into this heritage, selling a fine range of crystals and minerals as well as unusual jewellery. Find it just north of Central Station – it’s open in the morning until 1.30pm and again after a lunch break from 3.30pm. Ideal as a gift – or to treat yourself.
Once you’ve had your fill of Renaissance pendentives, make time to visit the Bologna Shoah Memorial, a deeply moving contemporary space completed in 2016 in memory of the Holocaust and Italy’s lost Jewish communities .
Nuts and bolts:
What currency do I need?
What language is spoken?
Should I tip?
10 percent minimum. Also, expect a ‘coperta’ cover charge of around €2 added at restaurants.
How should I get around?
On foot, it is a pleasant city to explore.
What is the best view?
Climb the 468 steps of the highest “Le Due Torri” – Asinelli Tower for a panoramic view of the city below.
Bologna has large public parks, the most beautiful of which, Giardini Margherita, is home to recently renovated botanical gardens. It’s a great place to work, rest and play, tending to be a student haunt as it’s the perfect place to study thanks to cheap food and drink and free wifi.
Try to fly less?
Take the Eurostar from London to Paris, then an SNCF train to Turin, from where you can take a local train to Bologna.
Good with flying?
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair fly to Bologna from the UK.