Recently, one of my close friends – Allie from The White Apartment – took an amazing two week trip around Northern Italy! I lusted after her photos on Instagram as she ate her way around the cutest of Italian villages and cities. One of which was Bologna, in the heart of Italy’s most famous food region! Of course I had to ask her to share her absolute favorite things about Bologna with us. And in this post she’s detailed all there is to do, eat and see in the city!
When my husband and I were planning our trip to Italy we knew we wanted to make a stop in Bologna because it’s where some of Italy’s most recognizable food comes from. We love to cook at home and have been making pasta from scratch for years (here and here are some examples).
Bologna is a bit less touristy than other Italian cities, but has so much history. The oldest University in the world is located there and as result the city has always had a strong connection to arts, sciences, and culture. It’s an interesting contrast to the largely religious cities that dominate most of Italy’s history. Because the university still operates, Bologna has a young, vibrant feel that’s rare among so many medieval towns. On top of all this it’s in the heart of Italy’s most famous food region.
How to Get There
From the Airport – The Bologna airport is trying to establish itself as a major airport in Italy so there’s a good chance you can find a great price to fly in or out of here. If you’re in the states, try signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get notifications about flight deals. It’s a free service and can help you save you a lot of money. Once you land, you can take a cab (about 20 minutes and is about €25, but the line can be unpredictable) or a bus. The BLQ bus (€6 per person, tickets on board) ends at the train station in Bologna and from there you can take the appropriate bus to your flat or hotel.
By Train – If you’re coming from another part of Italy this is the way to go. Italy has an extensive train system that reaches all over the country. There are regional trains and fast trains. The fast trains can get a bit pricey, but are one of the quickest ways to get around the country. Plus, the benefit of not having to learn the roads and quirks of driving in a foreign country was worth the extra expense. Just know you’ll want to budget some extra money for train fares.
Where to Stay in Bologna
When visiting Bologna I recommend staying within the “circle.” If you do you won’t be more than a 15-minute walk to the city’s main Piazza (Piazza Maggiore) and markets. I stayed in an AirBnB and absolutely loved it. It was a one bedroom with a small kitchen and was the perfect place to unwind after a long day of walking all over the city.
Helpful Italian Phrases
As I mentioned, Bologna is a bit less touristy than other parts of Italy so it’s important to pick up a few Italian words and phrases to get around. I found Google Translate and an app called “Italian Phrases” to the most useful for translation on the go. For both you can download all the data for use offline.
- Ciao (hello/goodbye)
- Gratize (pronounced grat-see-eh, means thank you)
- Prego (You’re welcome)
- Vorrei (I would like)
- Parli inglese (Do you speak English?)
What to Do in Bologna
Book a tour through Welcome Bologna – they offer many guided walking tours to learn about Bologna. I linked the tour I took, it covered much of Bologna’s rich history and at only €15 each it was a great deal!
Climb the Asinelli Tower – It’s the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world and even though the 498 steps to the top might be a turn off, the views once you make it are stunning. Get your ticket at the Welcome Bologna visitor’s center in Piazza Maggiore (or here) and then show up to the tower. It may look like it’s closed, but a small line will form on the side furthest from the smaller tower. Tickets are available every 45 minutes and cost €5.
Visit the Bologna Museum of Modern Art – This is the one thing I wished we had time to do. It’s only €6 and we’ve heard great things about it from several people.
What to Eat
First things first, I have to tell you a bit about Bologna. It’s the capital of the region of Emiliga Romagna which is also called “The Fat” because so much of Italy’s most delicious foods come from this region. Prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan Cheese, Mortadella, Balsamic Vinegar, Prosecco, etc. Bologna’s most famous for several things:
- Cured meats – prosciutto is the most famous one in the US, but mortadella is what they’re most known for in Italy. Plus, copious other types.
- Parmesan Cheese – True Parmesan cheese is made in a town called Parma that’s about an hour north of Bologna, because they’re so close you’re getting the real deal in Bologna too.
- Tagliatelle Bolognese – this is tagliatelle pasta in a delicious ragu sauce.
- Tortellini in Brodo – Brodo just means broth (but, like, the most delicious broth you’ve ever eaten in your life that you’ll think of every day for ever and ever). Tortellini are little tiny pockets of mortadella mixed with Parmesan cheese.
- Tortelloni – Tortelloni look like huge tortellini, but are filled with fresh ricotta then tossed in butter and sage.
Where to Eat
The Markets – I recommend going in the morning and then eating at a Salumeria for lunch because many close between 1:00 and 3:00 and some don’t reopen in the afternoon. My favorite place for a cured meat plate and a glass of wine was Salumeria Simoni – if I had more time in Bologna I would have gone back every day! The other salumeria that I adored was Bruno e Franco. We went there at the end of the day and got an assortment of food to eat at our flat. Their tortelloni was out of this world!
Get Ragu at Antica Trattoria Spiga. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Piazza Maggiore (and right next door to the AirBnB I recommended!). According to our Italian AirBnB host it’s the perfect, classic Ragu. And I have to say I completely agree.
Get Tortellini in Brodo at Trattoria Tony. Very much a locals only spot where we were the only people who spoke English. The food was amazing and it was fun to test the limits of our Italian.
Travel Tips When Visiting Italy
- To save money, buy your train tickets ahead of time. Tren Italia is the major provider and they have a great website where you can check fares and book in advance which can save you a lot of money. Most of the station names are in Italian, so if you can’t find the one you’re looking for that’s probably why. For example, Florence is “Firenze” and Rome is “Roma.” A quick Google search can give you the Italian name of any town.
- Always validate your train tickets before riding at one of the red, white, or green boxes on the platform right before you ride. If you don’t you can be fined up to €50.
- You don’t tip at restaurants. At many places there will be a table charge of a few euro instead. This covers bread, water, and service.
- You don’t really need a sim card, use wifi when you can and download a map of Bologna in Google Maps for use offline. This will be a huge help in getting around.
Thank you to Allie for this great post! Check out her blog – The White Apartment // Follow her on Instagram – Pinterest
Have you been to Bologna before? What were some of your favorite things to do, see and eat in the city?