Sitting in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, Bologna is a city which has been overshadowed by the likes of Florence and Venice. This charming city deserves a spot on any Italy itinerary, as it is overflowing with intriguing history, delicious cuisine, and spectacular sights.
Of course if you do decide to visit, you’ll want to do a little reading beforehand to find out why people are consistently raving about this beautiful Italian city. We recommend taking a look at our Bologna itinerary to get an idea of what to plan for and expect. With it in hand you’ll know about all the best things to do in Bologna for a trip full of great sightseeing and eating.
Best Time to Visit Bologna
To have a fun and memorable time during your 2 days in Bologna, it’s vital you take into account the best time of year to visit. Weather and high season crowds can have a huge impact on your enjoyment of the city. During the summer months of July and August, the city struggles under sweltering heat and humidity, and is filled with a lot of tourists. Additionally, most locals go off on summer holidays in August making it a less than ideal time to visit.
It’s generally said that the best time to visit Bologna is in the months of April, May, and October. Visiting during spring or autumn generally offers pleasant weather which makes sightseeing more comfortable. Good weather means that these seasons do have their fair share of tourists as well, but nothing compared to the levels in places like Florence. On the fringe of high season, June and September are also worth contemplating as they’re still quite good in terms of weather, though prices tend to be higher than normal.
How to Get Around Bologna
Compared to other major Italian cities, Bologna may not look very large on a map. Yet, when you’re walking through the historic center of Bologna it somehow feels much larger and denser than you might have imagined.
Despite this, to see the best of Bologna you’ll still want to get about the city on foot. Moving at a slower pace allows you to really appreciate the atmosphere of this ancient place and take in the many little details which speak to its lengthy history. Additionally, many of the main sights are close together and are found within pedestrian areas which makes other modes of transport irrelevant.
There are of course times while visiting Bologna when you might find public transport useful. For example, getting to and from the main train station with all your luggage is not a time you’ll want to be on foot. Bus tickets can be bought at major transit hubs like the bus and train stations, but there should be ticket machines onboard as well. The cheapest fare is a 75 minute trip ticket costing €1.30 in advance and €1.50 onboard, you can find more information here.
If you’re flying in to Bologna, the nearest airport is the Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport, 6km from the city center. To reach the city center you can take a taxi, but the Aerobus is the more affordable option. Buses run every 11 minutes and connect the airport with the city center and main train station. Tickets cost €6.00 one way.
Where to Stay in Bologna
So as to make the most of your time in Bologna, it’s important to give some thought to where to stay in Bologna. The right accommodation in the right location can make your visit much more enjoyable. Essentially, the best places to stay in Bologna are those which put you close to the city’s attractions and restaurants, most of which are in the historic center of the city. Stay too far from the center and you’ll find that everything takes longer to get to than is ideal.
For a truly grand experience in Bologna, there’s no other choice than the Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni. This incredible 5-star hotel is set inside an 18th-century palace in the heart of the city. The decor throughout will have you feeling like a king or a queen.
If you’re looking for a home away from home, you’ll want to stay somewhere like the B&B – Le Stanze del Carro. Cozy, with kind and helpful staff, this bed and breakfast puts you right in the city center in a historic building with a great breakfast to look forward to each morning.
Another approach to finding an affordable and comfortable place for yourself is to look at renting an apartment on Airbnb. There you can find fully equipped apartments, often with cooking facilities, truly making you feel like you have a home base. Plus, if you sign up for Airbnb with our link you can get up to $40 off your first booking.
If you’re looking to save some money or enjoy the hostel scene, then Dopa Hostel is the place for you in Bologna. With dorms and private rooms, this hostel combines a cool design, great atmosphere, and community meals to make it a great place to stay in Bologna.
For more accommodation options in Bologna check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Bologna Itinerary
With just 48 hours in Bologna you have the opportunity to visit this remarkable city either on its own or as a stop in part of a longer Italian journey. The best way to see the city in such a short time is by relying on an itinerary which shows you exactly where to go. That way, you’ll feel confident that you’ve experienced the best places to visit in Bologna when it’s time to leave.
Following our Bologna travel itinerary, you’ll start with the many historic gems found in the heart of Bologna. Then you’ll slowly venture further and further out until before you know it you’re standing at the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca looking down on Bologna from above.
However, before we get to our Bologna itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Now that you’re covered and prepared for your trip, we can let you in on what to do in Bologna in 2 days. After all, there’s no time to lose!
Day 1 in Bologna
There’s really no sense starting your weekend in Bologna anywhere but the historical center of the city. This is where many of Bologna’s most impressive and meaningful landmarks can be found.
Recommendation: If you want to learn a little bit more about the history of Bologna and get off the usual tourist trail, consider booking this private guided tour with a local. The guides are super knowledgeable about their city and let you customize the tour to your own pace. Highly recommended!
In the heart of Bologna is the Piazza Maggiore, a central square surrounded by fantastic medieval buildings. Before reaching the square you’ll first pass through the Piazza del Nettuno where your focus is immediately drawn to the expressive Fountain of Neptune. This statue of the Roman god has become an icon of Bologna.
Once in the square you’ll find a collection of medieval palaces, from the 13th century Palazzo Re Enzo to the city hall complex of Palazzo d’Accursio. Their impressive exteriors give the square quite a bit of character, but the real charm is the exquisite palace interiors. Also not to be missed here is the Biblioteca Salaborsa, a modern library built in the former stock exchange with an interesting mesh of design styles and a floor which is built so that you can see through to ancient city remains.
Basilica di San Petronio
The last major landmark on Piazza Maggiore to touch on is the grand Basilica di San Petronio. Thanks to its immense size and curious unfinished facade, you won’t be missing the sight of this important 14th century house of worship. We say unfinished as a lower portion of the front is covered in ornate marble, while the rest is simple brick.
Not to worry though because once you head inside the basilica, you’ll see a beautiful interior full of chapels decorated in a variety of styles. A less likely sight though is a marker which shows where a meridian line was inbuilt to help astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini perform measurements and calculate the timing of events such as the equinox and solstice.
Best of all, once you’ve finished seeing the church’s interior, you can head around the rear of the building to the church tower. Taking an elevator to the top, you’ll be treated to unobstructed panoramic views of the city, and a perfect spot to take pictures.
Just off Piazza Maggiore, down narrow alleys you’ll find the historic neighborhood known as Il Quadrilatero. Built up during the Middle Ages, this district was where the many trades and guilds of Bologna based themselves. When you wander into this neighborhood full of porticos, palaces, and towers, you’re seeing one of the oldest parts of Bologna.
Essentially a sprawling marketplace, Il Quadrilatero still serves the same purpose today and you can find shops here which trade in traditional foods and ingredients including pastas, meats, cheeses, and more. If you want to cook yourself an authentic meal while in Bologna, this is where you should go to pick up ingredients.
In the past, one of the main things which the city of Bologna was known for was its many towers. Nicknamed “Turrita”, medieval Bologna once had as many as 200 towers throughout its skyline. This was thanks to competitive nobles looking to show off their wealth. Today there are only around 20 towers left in Bologna, with two in particular which stands out – Garisenda and Asinelli Towers.
Known as the “Two Towers”, these medieval structures from the 12th century have become symbols of Bologna. Although they were originally built as status symbols, they’ve served many roles over the years from fortifications to guild houses. Despite their concerning lean, the towers are quite safe, so much so that you can actually climb the 496 steps to reach the top of Asinelli Tower.
One of Bologna’s defining features is the long arcades which run either side of many streets created by historic porticos. While you can find these porticos on many streets of the historic center, Via Rizzoli may be one of the city’s best examples. Walking under the cover of the porticos, you have a great long pedestrian boulevard in front of you and plenty of window shopping, not to mention some ideal photo opportunities.
Basilica di Santo Stefano
While you’ll see many churches in Bologna, one of the more unusual religious sites is the complex around the Basilica di Santo Stefano. Once a collection of seven interlocking churches, only four have survived to this day.
Situated on Piazza Santo Stefano, here you’ll see an interesting jumble of buildings thanks to the different periods in which each church was built. To see inside the site enter through the Church of the Holy Crucifix and you’ll be led from one church to the next. You’ll see the four remaining churches, along with various tombs, bones, and artifacts.
Archiginnasio of Bologna
The biggest claim to fame for Bologna is that the city is home to the oldest university in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. Although there is an entire University Quarter in Bologna, one of the best sites linked to this history is the Archiginnasio palace. The University of Bologna has been around since 1088, but this building was ordered in the 16th century by Pope Pius IV to consolidate the university into one place.
On a visit to the Archiginnasio, you’ll be able to see different classrooms which were once used to teach students. This may not sound all that impressive, but take a look inside the library and Anatomical Theatre and you’ll be singing a different tune. The Anatomical Theatre is particularly striking thanks to its amphitheater shape, wood paneling, and countless statues and busts. The other detail of the Archiginnasio which makes it so spectacular is its collection of heraldry, from coats of arms around its corridors and courtyards to the paintings which cover every square inch of its inner rooms.
Day 2 in Bologna
For your second day in Bologna, it’s time to see some of the city’s best museums, but also venture a little further from the city center to see what the rest of Bologna is like.
Due to Bologna’s dense historic center you won’t find many open or green spaces. To find those you need to head to the northern end of the city and visit Montagnola Park. Sitting on the ruins of Castello di Galliera, some of which can still be seen, the park was built by Napoleon in 1805. The park is best known for its graceful staircase the Scalinata Del Pincio, a favorite with tourists looking for a nice photo spot. Between the grand stairways sits a fountain with sculptures of a nymph and a seahorse.
Fitting one last church into your visit, it’s time to see the Metropolitan Cathedral of Bologna. While it may not seem overly impressive from the street, inside this landmark you’ll find an exquisite interior of marble and frescoes. There may have been a church here in the 11th century before 1184 when the cathedral was unveiled after a fire. Besides admiring its interior, the cathedral also offers visitors some stellar views from its bell tower.
With so much history in the city of Bologna, it’s little wonder that it’s home to a world class museum. The Museo Civico Archeologico is located near the Piazza Maggiore. The museum is housed inside a 15th century palace, which itself will capture your attention. As for the exhibits, there’s a strong focus on the ancient world here, with informative displays on ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Etruscans of Italy. This includes some local history as exhibits document Roman life in Bononia, as Bologna was known then.
From one museum to another, we head over to Medieval Museum of Bologna to gain a better understanding of this magical place. Set inside the Palazzo Ghisilardi, you’ll want to come to this museum for the incredible frescoes alone. The museum exhibits will take you through the highs and lows which Bologna experienced during the Middle Ages, while also showing you suits of armor, statues, and documents from that period. Topics inside the museum range from jousting to the city’s acclaimed university and much, much more.
Bologna Food Tour
For many visitors, their reason for coming to Bologna has more to do with the food than it does the sights. After all, Bologna is known for dishes like spaghetti ragu, more commonly known as spaghetti bolognese, and its mortadella sausage, known around the world as bologna sausage or baloney. Then there are all the pastries, cheeses, wines, and other ingredients which make the Bologna food scene so dynamic and interesting. While you could attempt to explore this side of the city on your own, it’s really best done with a guided food tour by someone who knows the city and its cuisine.
Museum of Modern Art in Bologna
Better known as MAMbo, the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna is a fairly new arrival, having only opened in 2007. A vast museum, the permanent exhibitions here look at the evolution of Italian art from World War II through to modern day. Exhibits are divided into different themes but sometimes include dedicated exhibits for Italian and overseas artists. The museum has also played host to the Museo Morandi, which has a collection of works by the painter Giorgio Morandi.
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
Off on its own, well out of the city center lies the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca on a hill overlooking Bologna. While you can see the church from the city center, a visit to the sanctuary is much more than just looking at the church up close. For starters, there’s the covered arcade of 666 arches which starts at the Arco Del Meloncello and takes you 3.8 km up to the sanctuary on top of the hill. Then there’s the incomparable views you’re rewarded with of Bologna and its cityscape below. All of this makes it a perfect way to round out your time in Bologna.
It’s a whirlwind to see Bologna in 2 days, hopefully you’ll leave with a decent taste of all the city has to offer and head home to plan you next visit!