The Best of Bologna (Italy)
Some people (including Spanky) will shoot me for saying this – but I was actually more impressed with Bologna than I was with Verona. It might not have as many points of interest as Verona but the sights in Bologna are unique and you won’t find anything similar anywhere else in Italy.
One of the first things that stand out in Bologna are the porticos. You might think that they were built as shelter from rain or sun. No. Bologna had a huge population increase in the Middle Ages and porticos started being built to increase the amount of living space on upper floors. Whereas many Italian cities banned porticos, in Bologna they became compulsory and regulated by precise laws. There are over 40km of porticos in the city and they make Bologna a very walkable kind of place. While you’ll see other cities with porticos in Italy, you won’t find any place that even comes close to Bologna.
Basilica de Santo Stefano
Bologna has some impressive churches including the Basilica de San Pietro, the main Cathedral in Bologna (I’ll have photos of that later). But it is the oldest church in Bologna, the Basilica de Santo Stefano (built in 430 AD) that is really memorable. Known as Sette Chiese in Italian (“Seven Churches”) it is actually a complex of churches, crypts, and tombs. It is like stepping into a Medieval stone maze. It is hard to capture the atmosphere in photos but here are a few:
Italy has incredible churches everywhere. But we’ve never encountered a church like this, which makes Bologna really unique. More here on Santo Stefano.
The Leaning Towers
In the 12th century Bologna had over 100 towers. Today 20 remain, the best known of them being the Torre Garisenda (on the left. 48m with a 13m lean) and the incredible Torree degli Asinelli (97.2m, with a 1.3m lean – the highest leaning tower in Italy). You can climb the 498 steps up the Torree degli Asinelli which I of course did:
One of the things I love about Italy are towers and we’ve seen other places with lots of towers. San Gimignano comes to mind. But what really stands out about the Torree degli Asinelli in particular is it’s height. And imagine, it’s almost a 1000 years old (built in 1109). That’s pretty crazy.
Anyway, the above are the 3 really unique things about Bologna that will always come to mind when hearing someone mention “Bologna”.
But there’s more.
Tours to take in Bologna
Other sights in Bologna
Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno
In the center of the historic city (everything is close by and easily walkable) is the main plaza (Piazza Maggiore). You’ll see the huge Basilica of St. Petronius (maybe not the prettiest of Bologna’s churches but easily the biggest) on one side. The Tourist Information office is directly opposite (they’ll give you a free map). Just next to Piazza Maggiore is Piazza del Nettuno which features a famous Neptune fountain created in the 16th century. You’ll see lots of magnificent buildings on these two squares.
Basilica of St. Petronius (Duomo)
The Basilica of St. Petronius is within a 2 minute walk of the above and is simply gorgeous. It’s only because Santo Stefano is so unique that it takes a backseat in my books, but really it is an incredible Basilica.
Another incredible church. Simple looking from the outside, the interior is gorgeous. Saint Dominic’s remains lie in a marble tomb inside the church.
A few more scenes around Bologna
– The Tourist Office has a good website where you can find great maps and itinerary ideas.
– Bologna is an easy city to visit in a day. Sites of interest are all within a small area and easily walkable. We spent 5 hours, including an hour for lunch, and covered all the highlights.
– We used Padova (Padua) as our base in the region and it took 90 min to get to Bologna (which is about halfway between Venice and Rome when taking the train between the two cities).
Bologna doesn’t get many foreign tourists and that’s shame. I wonder if it’s because of the name, for many it just conjures up visions of cheap lunch meat and/or a type of spaghetti sauce.
Accommodation. Here are a few suggestions for a couple of nights in Bologna: Albergo Garisenda (historic little hotel right in the center. Very affordable), Cavalieri’s Grand (very modern, clean rooms right in the center. Good value), Hotel Al Cappello Rosso (this is a luxury option for special occasions. Funky boutique hotel).
Flights. Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi Airport (code: BLQ) has flights from/to all over Europe.
Have you been to Bologna?
Related: A Local’s Travel Guide to Italy
Related: Why Vernazza is the best town in the Cinque Terre
Related: Italian City Rumble! Venice, Rome or Bologna – which should you Visit?
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This post came at the right time, I might go to Bologna next month to visit friends. And I had no idea it was this beautiful! Nor that it had so many kilometres of porticos… I’ll definitely like walking there 🙂
Haha you made me smile at the end when you say that Bologna conjures cheap meat and spaghetti sauce… but I think it’s a sad truth. Which makes me think… how was the food there?
Thank you Laia. Actually Bologna is supposed to be renown for its good food. We only had lunch there so that’s not much, but what we did have was very good.
You’re right! Porticos are everywhere – and how GRAND they are! Thanks for the quick history lesson by the way. I think a lot of us are thankful that these were built. I can’t believe they were banned in other cities though. Why? Was it an architectural style that they just didn’t like or was there something else – perhaps because they weren’t “Italian”?
Hi Hung, I think it was a safety issue because they would be made of wood and couldn’t withstand natural disasters. So they legalized it on the basis that they be constructed of brick or stone.
Blimey, that’s one hell of a church/tower. I bet passing people on that narrow staircase was a bit of a pain??
Yes, that was the downside. I suggest people don’t do it on a Saturday.
Bologna looks amazing, a very stylish city. The porticos are truly beautiful, I love the strong colors and frescoes. I think the name suits this city perfectly. I love the name ” Bologna”, but I guess it is because I have a VERY special reason to love it so much….
Thanks Gilda, we thought the same of the porticos, they really are unique. Hmm, you’re making me curious about your special fondness for the name! 🙂
The reason for my fondness is because Bologna is in my blood…literally, my paternal grandfather was born there, he was a Bolognese…my maiden surname, spelt just like that cheap spaghetti sauce you mentioned above ( do I hear you laughing?) .
Actually being named after spaghetti sauce not so bad, it’s the cheap lunch meat that I wouldn’t want to be associated with 🙂
So I guess you’ve never been there Gilda?
they just get better and better. Those towers – the leaning towers – they look brilliant. and there’s TWO! 🙂
Thanks Andy! Yes, pretty cool 🙂
I drove past Bologna due to time restrictions… doh! Kick’n myself in butt right now. I really had no idea it’s so enchanting Frank… goes to show that slow travel pays off. You deserved a beer after your climb up/down, that’s a lot of steps…but yes, incredible view!
Thanks Paula! Actually the thing to have here is a Spritz which we kind of got hooked on 🙂
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
I looove it! the porticos are great as a shelter from rain or sun! Bologna’s my favourite Italian city!
Bologna is very interesting city, I think they don’t get many foreign tourists because of high competition. When you are located between Venice and Florence it’s very hard to attract tourists. 🙂 Same problem have many other beautyful Italian cities.
I’m glad that you climbed to Asinelli tower, that was one of Bologna highlight for me.
Very true Tripologia! Yes, I enjoyed it too – the only thing is that it was around noon on a Saturday so lots of people…I would really recommend choosing a better time. But otherwise totally worth it.
Wow …! So much history ..so much to explore..very beautiful images Frank.!
Thank you so much Soumi! Oh, I almost forgot – how is your Germany/Austria trip plans coming along? Have you come back or are you going in the near future? Let me know sometime how the different destinations worked for you, if you loved some/ were disappointed by others etc. Hope you enjoyed.
No, he is from Lazio, Rome 🙂
Is that where the lazy Italians come from? 🙂 HAHAHA.
Ok, just kidding.
Bologna looks awesome. I can’t wait to visit it. Federico speaks fondly of it. He says it does get pretty packed in the summer though, which unfortunately is when we plan on being there. I had no idea about the leaning tower. The view from the top is awesome. You’re right, we loved San Gimignano and the towers, not to mention the wild boar 🙂 . The porticos are so freaking beautiful. Love them. Great images as usual Frank!
Thanks Kemkem! Yes, I’m told Bologna gets lots of Italian visitors but few foreigners. Is Federico originally from Bologna? Yes, I was surprised and really liked the place.