Besides the great cultural towns, such as Venice, Florence, and Rome, Italy is home to gorgeous cities often missed by tourists. Bologna is one of them. The town is famous for its fantastic food scene and for its amazing nightlife and, but there are also plenty of places to see. If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to visiting the top attractions in Bologna look no further, this guide has everything you need to know.
In the center of Bologna, you’ll find the central square of Piazza Maggiore one of Bologna’s most well-known top attractions. This city center serves as an important historical place. This square is packed full of important buildings including the Pallazo d’Accursio, the Palazzo del Podesta, the Basilica di San Petronio and the Palazzo Comunale.
You’ll be able to admire the fantastic architecture, visit the palaces and basilica, or sit and enjoy a fine Italian meal at one of the restaurants nestled in the Porticos. The bustling atmosphere here is fantastic and throughout the year there are concerts and open-air movies. Northwest of the square you’ll find the Piazza del Nettuno that contains the famous Fountain of Neptune.
Basilica di San Petronio
Construction of this massive church began in 1390 with the aim to be even bigger than St. Peter’s in Rome. Although the church dominates one side of Piazza Maggiore it never ended up being finished. In fact, the facade remains incomplete today. It is quite a sight to see as it towers over Piazza Maggiore.
Step inside and you’ll find the tiny museum at the back of the church, where you can see the designs that were submitted for the facade, including those by the great architect Andrea Palladio.
The interior, which was finished, is often referred to as the epitome of Gothic architecture in Italy, and each of the side chapels seems like a small church. Look out for the strange line cutting across the floor of the nave; it is a meridian line.
While the Leaning Tower of Pisa may be more famous, Bologna has its own similar top attraction. A pair of towers that appears to tilt even more alarmingly because of their narrow shape. Le due Torri are the best-known of the 20 towers that remain of the more than 100 that formed Bologna's 12th-century skyline.
Although they were necessary as both watchtowers and places of refuge in case of attack, their height also became status symbols for the noble families that built them. Today, the 48-meter Torre Garisenda leans by more than 13 meters. If you’re looking for something unusual to do in Bologna you can climb the 498 steps inside Torre degli Asinelli and enjoy the bird's-eye views of the city below.
Archiginnasio Anatomical Theater
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This was once the main building of the University of Bologna but today the Archiginnasio is home to one of the most unusual places in Bologna. The University of Bologna, founded in the 11th century, is the oldest university in the Western world.
This is the classroom where medical students learned anatomy by watching as corpses were dissected. It's not this bizarre aspect that fascinates today so much as the exceptional interior and its unusual wood carvings. The highlight is a life-sized wood sculpture of a man with the musculature and skeletal structure rendered to incredible detail.
Bologna Archaeological Museum
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If you’re a lover of history then this top attraction in Bologna should be at the top of your list. Conveniently located on the Piazza Maggiore, the museum is easily accessible and is a fascinating place to visit.
The Archaeological Museum offers a fantastic insight into the history of the city throughout the ages. The museum hosts a huge range of collections and is split into 9 different sections, these include Prehistoric, Etruscan, Celtic, Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Numismatic.
Each selection contains a superb display of different artifacts such as Bronze Age tools, skeletal remains, pottery, weaponry, china, and marble statues. You could spend hours exploring here and it’s perfect if you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day.
La Piazzola Market
If you love wandering around markets then this one is a must-visit attraction in Bologna. La Piazzola Market has been held in Bologna for hundreds of years and continues to prove increasingly popular with both the locals and tourists. You’ll find it in the Piazza dell Agosto which can be found to the north of the city center.
The market features over 400 different stalls and is a truly fascinating sight to witness. You'll be able to find practically anything for sale from clothes, shoes, fashion accessories, flowers, to pottery and jewelry. Immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere with the locals haggling and shouting offers all around you.
Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
The Santuario di Madonna or the Sanctuary of Madonna was first created in 1194, making it one of the oldest churches in Bologna. The church sits on top of the Monte della Guardia and offers fantastic views of the city below. The main building features a central basilica and is made from an orange-pink material giving it a terracotta coloring with green domes. If you’re an architectural boff you’ll recognize it as the Baroque style.
When you step inside this church that towers over its surroundings you’ll be met with intricate decorations and detailed frescos that depict important religious scenes. The Santuario di Madonna is also home to the Virgin Mary that was supposedly painted by Luke the Evangelist.
Portico di San Luca
When you visit Bologna you’ll soon realize you can't help strolling under the arcades or the portici that line so many of its streets. They are a welcome relief from the summer sun and provide the perfect escape from the wet on a rainy day.
The portici began in the 11th century as overhanging upper stories of buildings in the growing city center, adding more living and storage space over the shops and businesses on the street level. In the 13th century, new arcades were required to be tall enough for a rider to pass through on horseback. This rule led to the elegant arched arcades we see today.
Today in Bologna there are about 40 kilometers of these portici, the longest of which is about 3.5 kilometers and leads from the city to the hilltop Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. This walk is a fantastic thing to do, especially if you’re looking for things to do in Bologna for free.
Oratory of Battuti
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Climb the stairs to the room above the church to find one of Bologna's hidden gems, a small oratorio decorated in Baroque paintings, frescoes, and gilded carvings. Avoid a stiff neck by taking advantage of one of the benches to stretch out and look up at the perfectly splendid ceiling.
Around the room stand a group of 15 terracotta statues, Death of the Virgin, created by Alfonso Lombardi in the early 16th century. Watch for announcements of musical programs, which are held here because of the room's excellent acoustics.
You simply can’t visit Bologna without sampling some of the famous dishes, you are in the food capital of Italy after all so the food is definitely one of the top attractions in Bologna. Tortellini is one of the most popular traditional Italian foods in Bologna and most local restaurants will serve this tantalizing dish.
Traditionally, Tortellini is a ring-shaped pasta filled with various stuffings such as pork, prosciutto, and cheese, and served in a form of chicken or beef broth. Mystery and intrigue surround the origins of this food but Bologna is considered to be one of the best places to experience an authentic Tortellini dish. Skip the over-crowded restaurants that attract flocks of tourists and explore the best places to eat in Bologna that only locals know.
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