By Andrew Thompson
Bologna, Italy still sails slightly below the radar when it comes to travels in Italy, which is hardly surprising when you consider the giants of the country’s tourism industry. Although the city may not have the canals of Venice, the vast ruins of Rome, the loveable chaos of Naples, or the artistic clout of Florence, travellers who overlook Bologna are missing out. There is a surprisingly long list of things to do in Bologna, and the Bologna weather is also particularly agreeable, particularly in the summer months when it’s possible to have up to ten hours of sunshine and average highs well into the 20s. Many also consider Bologna’s food to be among the best in Italy, with a range of pastas and gelatos that can rival the best in the country. All that aside, the city is also home to several famous Bologna churches, including the Sanctuary of the Madonna Di San Luca and San Petronio Basilica, the tenth largest in the world, and the centuries-old gathering point of Piazza Maggiore. Although the question ‘is Bologna worth visiting?’ is a common one, it’s a surprisingly easy one to answer - it’s not if the city is worth but when is it worth visiting! And the best place to start when planning a trip to Bologna, Italy, is to make sure you go at a time that best suits what you’re looking for in a city break.
If your goal is to visit the city during the hottest and driest time of the year, then the summer months of June, July and August are your best options. Bologna weather in the middle months of the year is predictably warm and sunny with clear skies - there are usually fewer than six days of rain per month over this period. Unless you’re a total sun worshiper, though, the heat may be a little overbearing at times. The temperatures in the city can often peak above 30 degrees, and like other big cities in Italy, the humidity can often be high, which can make things a little bit sticky and uncomfortable. Still, the warm weather is perfect for exploring the city, and there are often fewer people in Bologna over this time, which makes it easier and more pleasant to explore.
The best of outdoor Bologna
Like many Italian cities, Bologna comes to life in the warmer months, and there are ample opportunities to take advantage of the hot and sunny summer weather. What’s more, you’ll likely have several hours of sunshine in which to tick off all the best outdoor things to do in Bologna. Although accessible throughout the year, some activities like exploring the open markets, getting lost along the cobbled alleyways and uncovering some hidden gems are best left for the warm and dry days. If dining out is a primary goal of yours while in Bologna, as it should be, then many of the restaurants spill out onto the sidewalks at this time of the year, allowing you to soak up some Italian rays while engaging in the ultimate Italian pastime - people watching.
After the high heat of summer, the cooler temperatures of autumn come as a bit of a relief. The highs start to fall off from late August, and by September the temperatures will range between 10ºC and 28ºC, which means it will still be comfortable enough to spend much of your time outside. It’s also likely that as you approach the latter weeks of autumn you’ll encounter snowfall, which will leave a light dusting over the city to totally transform its appearance and atmosphere. If you’re travelling on a budget, this might also be a good time to visit - it’s Bologna’s slowest tourism season and there are often good deals to be had on accommodation.
Autumn is the beginning of truffle season in Bologna, and if you’re on a foodie expedition to Italy it’s a great time to visit the city’s famous restaurants. There’s also a fantastic shift of atmosphere in the city at this time of year, as the aromas of the archetypal winter snack, the chestnut, start wafting down the streets. Around Piazza Maggiore you’ll find a range of stores in which to indulge in autumn delicacies, from artisanal chocolate right through to pastas and falling off the bone, slow cooked meats. And as you approach the end of autumn there are many food festivals in the city that focus only on seasonal delicacies.
Winter in Bologna gets cold - temperatures between December and February seldom rise above 14 degrees Celsius, and it’s possible to experience heavy snowfall at this time. Still, if you can handle the cold, it’s a beautiful time to visit the city. The colder weather and snowfall totally transform the once vibrant streets, and although people spend less time outdoors there’s still an infectious energy. This is also the second most popular time for tourists to visit the city, so you can expect hotel prices to increase and restaurant reservations to be slightly trickier. Even though December to February are the coldest times of the year in the city, Bologna weather has a way of rewarding visitors with days perfect for taking in the best of the city.
Comfort foods and indoor attractions
Although many may avoid Bologna in winter, a visit between December and February can deliver some unexpected delights. It’s a fantastic time for foodies to visit the city, and the colder winter visit offers ample opportunity to sample some of the famous Bologna food, much of which is warm and hearty and the perfect antidote to the cold outdoors. If you’re unsure where to start, a Bologna food tour can expose you to the very best of the city’s culinary specialities. Many of the city’s other attractions are also perfect for winter travellers. There are dozens of notable museums, and Bologna churches, like Sanctuary of the Madonna Di San Luca and San Petronio Basilica, offer perfect respite from the cold.
Spring may just be the best time to visit Bologna. The cool winter air is still hanging around to make sure the temperatures are still bearable, there’s a renewed energy in the city after the long winter finally breaks, and it’s a great time to tick off the long list of things to do in Bologna. Temperatures between March and May range between 12.4°C and 26.1°C, with the average highs climbing towards the end of May. Although there’s a possibility of rain at this time of year, with an average of eight wet days per month, it doesn’t deter the visitors - this is one of the busiest times of the year. Although this means that you might pay more for your hotel stay, and have to jostle with some crowds, the temperate weather and spring energy make it a superb time to visit.
Walks in the hills
One of the main questions that visitors unfamiliar with the city ask, is ‘what is Bologna, Italy known for?’ Well, there’s no better way to find out than to spend a few familiarising yourself with the city during spring. The famous sites like Bologna’s Fountain of Neptune, and the iconic Piazza Maggiore, are at their best at this time of year. But once you’ve experienced everything you want to do in the city, it’s also possible to soak up the atmosphere in the nearby hills, where you’ll find incredible walks and hikes that help you work up a hunger for all that famous Bologna food you’ll be eating.
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