Edited by Emma White.
Despite its reputation as being Italy’s culinary capital, Bologna is often overlooked by tourists traveling to the country. Perhaps it is because some people believe there is little to do when compared with other, more well-known Italian cities such as Rome. On the contrary, Bologna is packed full of important sightseeing destinations, historical and cultural attractions, local experiences, and of course, we boast an impressive (and delicious) food scene. The list is endless but why not start with this guide which will tell you what to do in Bologna in one day so that you can experience the best of the city in a short amount of time. Follow my Bologna 24-hour itinerary to maximize fun and minimize the time spent planning and coming up with things do in Bologna.
Morning - Coffee at Terzi
There’s no better way to start your one day in Bologna than with a steaming coffee at Caffé Terzi. Known amongst locals as the best coffee shop in the city, Terzi is wonderfully authentic and ideally located right in the center of Bologna. Terzi serves exceptional coffee, from specially chosen beans which are roasted in-house, delicious cakes, and pastries. Order a classic espresso or frothy cappuccino and enjoy it like a local, standing up at the counter. Pair it with a soft, flaky croissant for the perfect Italian breakfast! And remember that during your stay in Bologna, ordering a cappuccino after 11am is frowned upon so best to avoid doing that!
After breakfast, visit one of the city’s most important monuments, the Torre Asinell. Climbing the tower is truly a quintessential Bologna experience that should not be missed by visitors to the city, especially first-timers. The Asinelli Tower, along with its twin, the Garisenda Tower, are known together as Le Due Torri and have guarded the city for many centuries. They are an important part of Bologna’s history and are loved by the city’s locals. To reach the top of the tower you will have to climb the 498 (quite steep) steps - it may sound like way too much effort, but I promise you won’t regret it as you will be rewarded with stunning views over the entire city with its patchwork of orange tiled rooftops and maze of old-style streets.
See Santuario di Santo Stefano
Next, make your way to the another one of Bologna’s must-see attractions, Santuario di Santo Stefano. This church consists of one complex made up of seven different churches built at various times according to different architectural styles. Each one is unique and has its own specific purpose, but they all fit together to form this grand building. This is one of my favorite Bologna tours and although entry is free, there is a box to leave donations and I encourage you to do so to contribute to the upkeep of this architectural treasure.
Lunch time - Osteria dell’Orsa
After half a day exploring Bologna, you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite by now so it’s time to sample some delicious, authentic Bologna food. Enjoy a traditional Bolognese lunch at Osteria dell’Orsa, a humble, laid-back eatery loved by Bologna locals for its simple setup, fast service, tasty food and affordable prices. They serve a variety of home-made, classic Bolognese dishes and take extra care to make and present them in the most traditional way possible. Dell’Orsa is packed daily with locals who come here to enjoy a satisfying lunch to keep them going for the rest of the day until their evening meal. I recommend ordering a tagliatelle dish – although it is true that Italians eat pasta every day, it should be noted that it will usually be dry pasta and that Italians often reserve the good stuff (fresh pasta) for weekends and special occasions. Your one day in Bologna is most definitely a special occasion so go right ahead and dive into a bowl of silky, fresh tagliatelle at this authentic restaurant!
After lunch, make your way to via Indipendenza, Bologna’s main street and centre of its retail district. Here you’ll find a wide variety of shops including well-known high street stores, designer shops, boutique clothes shops and an array of cute cafes and snack bars. This is a lively part of town and a great place to hang out amongst locals whilst you get your retail therapy fix. If you face away from the railway station and explore the shopping street in that direction, you will end up at Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main square. Take a moment to look around and admire the gorgeous Renaissance-style buildings that surround the square and check out the famous Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain).
The Basilica of San Petronio
The Basilica of San Petronio is the square’s most important attraction and is in fact one of the biggest Catholic churches in the world. Marvel at its architectural beauty on the outside before heading in to check out the stunning interior and learn about the church’s cultural and historical significance. If you’re in town for longer and wondering what to do in Bologna in 2 days rather than one, I’d really recommend spending a large portion of your first day wandering around this area, exploring each street carefully and seeing what you can find tucked away where most people would miss if they weren’t paying attention. In my opinion, it’s the best way to discover a city!
Archiginnasio di Bologna
From here you can also visit another one of Bologna’s attractions, Archiginnasio di Bologna. This splendid building once housed the University of Bologna, one of the oldest universities in Europe, and currently houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library and Anatomical Theatre. The walls and ceilings are covered in intricate drawings, coats of arms and writings, all narrating the building's history. The highlight of your visit will be seeing the old Anatomical theatre with its beautiful wooden carvings. Next, head to the vibrant Mercato Delle Erbe, just a short walk away from the Archiginnasio. This vibrant, traditional food market is one of the best things to do in Bologna for an authentic experience of local life in the city. It has a fantastic array of fresh food stalls and other local products such as olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wine on tap. It’s a great place to sample local Bologna food either from the vendors at their stalls or in the small eateries surrounding the market. While you’re here, pick up a few apertivo-style foods such as cured meats and cheeses – you’ll need these later!
When evening approaches, take all the delicious food that you purchased at Mercato Delle Erbe to Bologna’s oldest Osteria, Osteria del Sole, for a classic Italian aperitivo. This historic bar can be found tucked away down a quiet street, through a small door with no particular signage to alert you to its location. Quite literally a hidden gem, this is the perfect spot for those looking for a traditional Bolognese experience amongst locals who flock here after a busy day to relax with friends, a glass of wine and some aperitivo nibbles. The small bar serves a good selection of wines and beers at affordable prices and although this osteria doesn’t serve food, you are welcome to bring your own to enjoy alongside your drinks. Locals and those in the know will usually turn up with cured meats, cheeses and other aperitivo snacks purchased from local delis and supermarkets – this is where your lovely food from the market comes in! Unpack your assorted Bolognese foods, order your drinks and enjoy the Bolognese ambience!
Dinner - Al Sangiovese
After your aperitivo, it’s time for an authentic Bolognese dinner. I recommend Al Sangiovese, just south of Piazza Maggiore in a lively and casual neighborhood. This is one of my favorite restaurants and I know that no matter what day of the week I come or what dish I order, I am guaranteed a delicious meal and impeccable service. Pretty much anything the owner recommends will be worth getting and he often likes to adapt dishes to his customer's personal preferences. Attention to detail is important here and customers are always received with a warm welcome and are well looked after throughout the evening. The classics are great but make sure to also pay attention to the specials as they can be even better! If you struggle to choose, I recommend ordering the Gramigna alla Salsiccia – buon appetito!
If visiting in summer, head over to Giardini Margherita, Bologna’s most popular park, and find a spot to sit and relax whilst you enjoy the warm summer’s evening in the company of locals and other tourists. Maybe grab a beer each from a nearby shop if you fancy it! If visiting in winter, check out Via Mascarella, a lively spot where you’ll find an array of nice bars, cafes, and pubs to enjoy a few drinks and maybe get chatting to some locals. For a late-night snack on your way home, go to Bombocrep. They make the crepes right in front of you and you can choose from a wide range of different tasty toppings. The best way to end your Bologna 24 hour itinerary!
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