Edited by Emma White.
Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in Italy, often neglected on travel itineraries in favor of Italy’s more famous tourist hotspots. This is surprising considering there are so many great things to do in Bologna for both first-timers and returning visitors. From its beautiful historic center, rich history and impressive architecture, to authentic Bolognese food culture, and warm, friendly atmosphere, this city in the heart of the Emilia Romagna has so much to offer no matter what your interests are. So if you’re planning a weekend break to Italy, consider Bologna as a destination and read this guide to find out what to see in Bologna in 2 days to help you put together your 2 days in Bologna itinerary. I’ll reveal to you the city’s top attraction and best keep secrets and give you advice on where to eat in Bologna so you can discover this city like a true local.
Breakfast at Caffe Terzi
Begin day one at Bologna’s best coffee shop, Caffe Terzi. This wonderful authentic café in the center of Bologna serves excellent coffee, delicious cakes and boasts a cozy, elegant atmosphere along with friendly staff offering impeccable service. Order a classic espresso or cappuccino and take it standing at the counter as the locals do. Pair it with a buttery croissant or the perfect Italian breakfast to set you up for a full day visiting Bologna. Just remember in Bologna you must never order a cappuccino after 11 am, it’s an Italian rule!
Morning of exploring
After breakfast, it’s time to visit a few of Bologna’s prettiest and most famous sights. Head to Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore, just a stone’s throw away from Caffe Terzi, and take a moment to look around, inspect the gorgeous renaissance-style architecture and watch local Bolognese life unfold in front of you. This is one of the top things to do in Bologna and the perfect place to start for those who have arrived and are wondering what to see in Bologna in 2 days - from here you can access all of the important Bologna attractions. Next, take a short walk to one of my favorite Bologna attractions, the Santuario di Santo Stefano. This church is one complex made up of seven churches built at various times and in different ways. Each one has a slightly different style that makes it unique and memorable, but they all fit together to form a wonderful building. This is one of the best Bologna tours, entry is free but there’s a box to leave donations. Don’t be surprised to find a friendly cat curled up fast asleep on a pew in the church designated for those in prayer and silence, he comes here often probably for the peace and quiet!
Visit the Archiginnasio di Bologna
End your morning at another one of my favorite Bologna locations, Archiginnasio di Bologna. This magnificent building once housed the oldest university in Europe. The walls and ceilings are covered in coats of arms and writings, narrating the building's story. The highlight of your visit will be seeing the old Anatomical theater with its intricate wooden carvings.
Lunch at Va Mo La
After an activity-packed morning, it’s time to refuel with some traditional Bolognese food. My recommendation for a special lunch on day one would have to be Va Mo La, a typical Bologna-style restaurant offering tasty home-made dishes. This restaurant used to be an old bookstore. It’s warm, homely and always very busy with locals. The menu consists of traditional Bologna dishes made from the freshest ingredients and the wine list covers the different regions of Italy, all at reasonable prices. Order the ragù, Bologna’s most popular pasta dish, or ask Stefano for his recommendation. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. This restaurant is a must-try during your 2 days in Bologna, I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do.
Climb the Torre Asinelli
Hopefully, you’re feeling re-energized and ready to explore more of this magical, medieval city. The next stop during your 48 hours in Bologna should be the Torre Asinelli, perhaps the city’s most iconic monument. Climbing the Asinelli Tower is a quintessential Bologna experience not to be missed by visitors to Bologna, especially first-timers. The Asinelli Tower along with its twin, the Garisenda Tower, are known together as Le Due Torri and have existed for more than eight centuries, standing proud in the heart of the city. Climb the 498 steps to the top of Torre Asinelli where you’ll be rewarded with exceptional views over the city’s terracotta rooftops, grand squares, quaint, cobbled streets and far beyond.
Aperitivo at Osteria del Sole
When evening comes around, the only place to be on your first day in Bologna is Osteria del Sole. This hidden gem is the perfect place for an Italian-style aperitivo. Through a small, easily missed doorway in an alley off via Pescherie Vecchie lies this unique and historic bar. Inside you’ll find long wooden tables and an array of mismatched chairs surrounded by walls covered in old-style pictures and photos. You’ll join an eclectic mix of locals from old men playing cards, to students winding down at the end of the week, to couples enjoying a romantic evening together. The tiny bar serves a selection of wines and cold beers at exceptional value (a glass of Pignoletto and bottle of beer for around €5 in total!). This osteria doesn’t serve food, however, you can bring your own food and those in the know will often turn up with cured meats, cheeses and other aperitivo snacks purchased from local delis and supermarkets. Make sure to come here when in Bologna, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its authentic character, warm atmosphere, great value, and friendly staff. And if you’ve only 1 day in Bologna make sure Del Sole is on your list, it’s a small pocket of Bologna bursting with authenticity and even just an hour spent here will make you feel like a local!
Cantina Bentivoglio Café
After your aperitivo, head to Cantina Bentivoglio Café for a late evening Bolognese dinner accompanied by live jazz music. This restaurant, wine bar, and jazz club is one of the best places in Bologna for live jazz and blues and the food is equally impressive. The menu is typical of the Emilia-Romagna region and they also offer a large variety of local and national wines. The cavernous venue set in the wine cellar of the former palazzo is large yet intimate, offering the perfect setting for your late-night meal. Indulge in a traditional Bolognese dish from the menu, choose a wine to pair with your meal, then relax as you soak up the jazzy feel-good vibes and authentic charm.
Day 2: Via Saragozza and Portico di San Luca
Start your day two morning off with coffee and pastries via Saragozza, a busy street lined with a myriad of charming coffee shops, boutique stores, and typical trattorias. It is also part of the Portico di San Luca, one of the longest arcades in the world connecting the Porta Saragozza with the Santuario di San Luca (San Luca Sanctuary). Before you embark on the long walk up to the Sanctuary, get your caffeine hit from Neri Pasticceria on via Saragozza. Their coffees are delicious, best enjoyed paired with one of their freshly baked pastries.
Explore the Basilica
After that, make your way up the portico on foot until you reach the beautiful Basilica perched on top of the hill. The walk is 4km long through the world's longest portico, with quite a few stairs in the second half of the walk. But the view from the top is worth it, plus, it's a nice little workout! However, if you prefer, take the San Luca Express toy train from Piazza Maggiore for €10 which will take you up to the Santuario, while providing a mini-tour of Bologna on the way. Whichever method you choose, you’ll encounter some breathtaking views of Bologna and the surrounding landscape. If you have time, visit the inside of the spectacular Santuario di San Luca. I recommend walking a bit further down the road, just 200 meters or so, and then you can turn around and get an amazing view of the entire church standing strong on the hill.
Lunch at Trattoria Casa Mia
On your way back from Santuario di San Luca, stop for lunch at another typical Bolognese restaurant located on via Saragozza, Trattoria Casa Mia. This cozy, classic eatery caters mainly to locals to you’ll be guaranteed an authentic experience. The menu is built around fresh, regional produce, as is the wine list. I’d recommend trying the classic lasagne dish or perhaps the tortellini al brodo – both divine! Note that the portions here are relatively large so it would probably be quite ambitious to order primi, secondi and dolce. But then again, you might just be hungry enough after that long walk!
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/ilfattoquotidiano/81914
After your lunchtime meal, head to MAMbo, Bologna’s Modern Art Museum. The museum is an architecturally interesting space with a variety of works displayed in interesting ways. Much of the works on display come from talented local artists' and many other Italians are represented in the international collection. There is a good balance between permanent collections and rotating exhibitions meaning the variety and dynamic often change. The museum currently houses the Morandi works which are fascinating and thought-provoking and a must-see for anyone who appreciates modern art. There's also a small café to enjoy a coffee break after viewing the works of art.
Dinner at La Fastuchera
My recommendation for dinner on day two would have to be La Fastuchera. La Fastuchera is a Sicilian restaurant just outside the main heart of Bologna. The food is truly excellent, “just like nonna’s” as us Italians would say! The menu is quite different from your typical Bolognese trattoria and offers a fantastic variety of fresh and interesting dishes, I recommend the swordfish dish! The service is charming and unpretentious while the atmosphere is warm and elegant. If visiting Bologna in the warmer months, start your meal with a small aperitivo of fresh, zesty negronis, sat out in the garden terrace. This restaurant is slightly off the beaten track, but it is definitely worth the little detour!
Via del Pratello Pub Crawl
What better way to end your 48 hours in Bologna than by enjoying a few drinks among locals in a lively part of town? Via del Pratello is well-known for its vibrant nightlife and bustling crowds of locals, students, and visitors who come here to mingle and share stories after dark with their favorite drink in hand. It is a Bologna nightlife tradition! With an array of historic pubs, atmospheric wine bars, and trendy bars, you’ll be spoilt for choice when searching for your perfect evening watering hole. So much so that you might just have to try a few! Do as the locals do and bar hop your way along this lively street and soak up the buzz of Bologna’s local nightlife.
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