Bologna Travel Tips from a First-time Visitor

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Italy is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beloved travel destinations. Bustling tourist hotspots like Rome and Florence have dazzled tourists for centuries. But today, we’re taking you to a lesser-known Italian gem that should really be on everyone’s travel bucket list—Bologna.

Kris Bordessa from Attainable Sustainable, recently shared her travel tips for Venice with us. Now she’s back to tell us all about her first time exploring Bologna. You’re sure to find valuable tips in her advice.

When my mom and I decided to add a week in Italy to an already full itinerary, Bologna made the list by default. It was the most logical (and least expensive) airport to fly into, and traveling from Bologna to various other locations in the northern region would be a snap with Italy’s excellent train system. Turns out, there are plenty of good reasons to visit Bologna, even if it’s not a tactical travel destination.

Finding fun things to do in Bologna for the first time visitor

Follow our Bologna travel tips to discover this beautiful plaza.

Yes, there is a leaning tower

Move over, Pisa. Bologna’s leaning tower is one of a pair of towers that graces the city. The Torre degli Asinellithe tallest leaning medieval tower in the world—is open to the public.

A leaning tower in Bologna, Italy

 Though we opted to keep our feet at ground level, visitors can enter the tower and climb 498 steps to get a view of the city from above. However …  if you asked me what Bologna, Italy is known for, I’d say without hesitation—it’s the food! Often called the Food Capital of Italy, our meals did not disappoint.

Discovering Bologna food specialties is part of the fun

homemade pasta and cheese for sale at the Bologna food market.

Is it possible for every meal to be better than the last? Unassuming sidewalk cafes serve dishes that take delicious food to a whole new level—and it’s inexpensive, too.

The quality of food in Italy—and Bologna in particular—is far superior to common American fare. The lasagna Bolognese with multiple layers of thin pasta and a béchamel sauce was a particular favorite, but the city is also known for its tortellini.


image of italian borlotti beans and spinach

Cooking with a local is a must

With such a focus on excellent food, there are numerous opportunities to cook with a local. We spent half a day with Carmelita of Cook Italy  learning how to make Italian pasta (the right way) and sauces to accompany it.

Hosted in Carmelita’s home, the cooking classes offered us not only a chance to get a hands-on lesson in food preparation, but an opportunity to learn more about the city. (And where to get the best gelato!)

sheet of freshly made pasta during a Bologna cooking class

Finding where the locals go for fresh food in Bologna, Italy

The cobblestoned Quadrilatero area, situated near Piazza Maggiore, is home to a medieval market that has been a food shopping center since Roman times. This is where locals come to buy the fresh fish, meats, produce, and bread that grace their family table.

It’s a busy, bustling area and a fun place to pick up what you need for a picnic or for cooking a meal at your lodging. Just don’t touch the fruit while you’re shopping! Italians frown upon customers touching the food, so place your order and allow the vendor to bag your fresh produce.

trays of fresh seafood

Exploring historic Bologna

Dating to the mid 1500s, the Archiginnasio of Bologna was an early University and center of learning. The building itself, with its sandstone columns and arches outside and the interior walls painted with coats of arms, is worth a visit. Book a tour here.

interior space with coats of arms at Europe's oldest university in Bologna, Italy.

statue on a pedestal in Bologna

It’s home to the Anatomical Theatre where corpses were dissected as part of the early scientific study of the human body. The Anatomical Theatre is made almost entirely of wood—a rarity in a city made of brick and stone.

vintage books
Also on site is a library stocked with shelves and shelves full of vintage books.

Appreciating the abundant porticos

There are nearly 40 km of these partially enclosed walkways in Bologna, and collectively they’ve been nominated as a UNESCO heritage site. Some are simple; others are elaborately decorated with paintings and carvings.

As you maneuver the city, be sure to take the time to look up and appreciate these beauties. It’s worth booking a private Porticoes Walking Tour to learn about the history and tradition of Bologna’s porticoes. Did you know they stretch through the city and beyond for 25 miles? 

Porticoes make up a UNESCO world heritage site in Bologna, Italy.

Looking for a place to stay in Bologna? Start your search for hotels in Bologna with us!

An important Bologna travel tip

There are numerous beggars. The current refugee situation in this part of the world is quite evident in Bologna, where men move up and down the streets, seeking a handout.

We were well into our time in Bologna before we realized that it would be a good idea to keep small change at the ready. It’s unfortunate, of course, but despite the prevalence of people in need, we never felt unsafe in Bologna.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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