When people think about what Bologna is known for, most people immediately think about the food. You’ll be able to spend hours wandering the streets exploring Bologna through its food and wine. But, what most visitors don’t know is that there are also loads of fun and free things to do in Bologna too.
After all, Bologna is a beautiful city, filled with amazing architecture, making it feel more like an outdoor museum. Some of the city’s most fun and free attractions will take you further afield, away from Piazza Maggiore so get ready to explore off the beaten path. Not only are these free Bologna attractions a great and cheap way to fill the day, but by exploring away from the city center they are a more sustainable way to explore the city.
Explore Piazza Maggoire
Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna and includes the Neptune Fountain as well as one of the most unique churches in Europe. One of the reasons why the Basilica is so architecturally unique is because the facade includes pink marble on the bottom, but brick towards the top.
Whether you just want to relax and rest your feet after exploring the city, stop and sit with the locals on the steps of Basilica of San Petronio. Join the young locals who often spend their evenings in Bologna perched on the steps. Piazza Maggiore is also home to a summer film festival that offers free screenings and other fairs throughout the year.
Visit The Basilica di San Petronio
Looking for something a little more active than relaxing on the steps? The Basilica of San Petronio is a unique exhibit of gothic architecture. The original plan was to make the church larger than St. Peter’s in Vatican City. Apparently, the Pope took offense and ensured this was not the case.
The Basilica includes a wide variety of artwork, frescoes, and even one of the world’s largest sundials. The Basilica is open in the mornings and again in the afternoons Monday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday. Although admission is free there is a charge for photos, and to visit the Cappella dei Magi, and the terrace with Panoramic Bologna views.
Stroll along the Porticoes
There are over 600 porticoes (or portici in Italian) in Bologna. They are a series of covered arcades stretching about 45 kilometers. And, they’ve been recognized for their historic significance from UNESCO.
One way to spend a day seeing the best of Bologna is to wander the porticoes and admire the architecture. The further you explore from Piazza Maggiore the more of a chance there is of witnesses how the locals live in Bologna. This is also a great way to visit Bologna when the weather is not so nice.
Visit the Seven Churches of Santo Stefano
The Basilica of Santo Stefano once included seven churches, which is why it is known as le Sette Chiese. The oldest church dates to the 5th Century and was built on top of a pagan temple. Today, only four churches remain. The Piazza Santo Stefano is lovely, with porticoes, bars, and cafes.
The churches that remain are set around quiet courtyards as well. It’s a unique place to visit in Bologna because all of the buildings are connected and you can wander among them while enjoying the architecture. One of the main reasons to visit is to see all the different architectural styles in the complex.
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Read A Book At the Archiginnasio of Bologna Library
You'll feel as if you've stepped back in time as you step through the doors of the Archiginnasio library. The walls include ornate paintings, symbols, and old family crests.
The library is one of the oldest in Europe and it also houses some ancient manuscripts. It’s like breathing in history. The library is open all day Monday through Friday and on Saturday morning. They are closed on Sunday. You'll find it behind the Basilica and Piazza Maggiore on the Piazza Galvani.
Search For Bologna Street Art
Another free Bologna must-see attraction is just out there in the open on the city walls. Bologna is one of the top spots for street art in Emilia Romagna and in Italy. Some of Italy’s best-known street artists have left their mark on the city.
Although the Bologna Tourist Office used to offer a map to help find some of the best street art in Bologna. But, because the installations change so quickly, it’s best to just explore. One place to look is in Bolognina, north of the train station.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bologna,_
Visit The Anatomical Theater
he Archiginnasio used to be one of the main buildings of the University of Bologna and it deserves a visit on its own. But, it now houses the Anatomical Theater, which is a truly unique things to see in Bologna.
It includes carved statues of some of the most famous doctors and medical practitioners of Italy. It’s certainly unique when considering that in the center is an old anatomical table, where students once watched surgery demonstrations. And, perhaps, a few dissections, as far back as the 1600s.
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