Bologna is the capital and the largest city of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. The population of its metropolitan area is about one million people. Bologna is a city with a thousands year long history. Famous for its towers, churches and long porticoes, Bologna has a well-preserved historical centre. The University of Bologna, established in 1088, is the oldest university in the world and the city has a large student population. Last but not least, do not forget delicious Bologna food. When planning a visit to this awesome city, keep in mind that much of the old town is a limited traffic access zone and that the access points are monitored by cameras.
So if you want to go around by car, check access zones carefully to avoid problems or just leave your car outside the city centre. Your familiarisation with the city very likely will start at Piazza Maggiore. There are many things to see around the square. One thing I noticed right away was the unfinished facade of
The Basilica of San Petronio
San Petronio is one of the largest churches in Europe: it is 132 meters long, 60 meters wide and 45 meters high. Basilica can accommodate about 28,000 believers. Its construction began at the end of the 14th century. Work continued for centuries but was never completely finished.The Basilica of San Petronio houses the longest indoor meridian line in the world, almost 67 metres long. It was designed in the middle of 17th century by a professor of astronomy at the University of Bologna, Gian Domenico Cassini.Next, stop by
Tourist information centre Bologna Welcome
to book your ticket for climbing Asinelli Tower if you have not done it on the Internet already. They do not sell the tickets at the tower at all, so be prepared.Also, if you want to do a walking tour of the city, it’s better to book it in advance because it might be sold out on the day of your visit.
Address: Piazza Maggiore, 1/e
On the main square, you will also notice
The Clock Tower
Or Torre Accursi. The owner of the tower was Accursio, a young man who had moved from Florence to Bologna to study law in the 13th century. He decided to have his own house built including both a school, whose portico looked out on the square and a corner tower. After his death, the building was bought by the growing Municipality of Bologna. A huge mechanical clock was added to it in 1444.Piazza del Nettuno is adjacent to Piazza Maggiore, so right around the corner, you will see
A giant 3.2 metre high bronze statue of the sea god Neptune has been standing at the Piazza del Nettuno for nearly five centuries. The statue is surrounded by four cherubs representing the rivers Nile, Amazon, Danube, and Ganges. Neptune holds his hand out as if to calm the waters, the ultimate symbol of power. He has been a beloved protector of Bologna for centuries.Have a look at his trident, too. It served as the inspiration for the famous emblem of Bologna-based luxury car company, Maserati.
In a few steps from Neptune, you will find the entrance of
Biblioteca Salaborsa is the central public library funded by the municipality of Bologna. It opened in 2001 and provides a rich and fascinating cultural space inside Palazzo d'Accursio, the historical seat of the city government. Salaborsa still carries visible traces of the past centuries under the glass floor in the main hall. Access to the library is free, as well as borrowing materials. You can also connect to the Wi-Fi network for free. Even if you have no intention to borrow books right away, it’s an exciting place to visit for its awesome interior.Then before you continue your Bologna sightseeing tour, head to nearby
Oggi Gelato shop
I must confess I love Italian gelato. I was happy to enjoy a very delicious one at Oggi Gelato shop. Their philosophy is based on absolute transparency, and therefore their premises are a visual experience and not just a taste. Look, listen, smell, touch and finally taste.
Address: Via Ugo Bassi, 25
So now you have had your gelato and prepared Asinelli tower climbing ticket and are ready to see symbolic
The two towers, the traditional symbol of Bologna today, stand right in the middle of the Porta Ravegnana square.The Asinelli Tower was built in the early 12th century by the Asinelli family. It is 97 metres high with a drop of 2.2 metres and an inner staircase of 498 steps. Yes, you can climb all the steps to see the view! As I have warned you, advance ticket reservation is mandatory and you can buy your ticket at the Bologna Tourist Office on Piazza Maggiore or online. After the climb, you can see the entire city from the top and also the Colle Della Guardia hill with the Basilica of San Luca a few kilometres away.The other, Garisenda Tower, was about the same height as Asinelli but today it is much smaller with a steeper drop due to subsidence of foundation. Garisenda Tower took such a steep incline that, in the 14th century, it was cut off to the current 48 meters.City towers had a defence function and also represented the social prestige of noble families who could afford to build them. In the late 12th century, at least one hundred towers existed, but today only twenty have survived. Quite recently, the statue of San Petronio made by Gabriele Brunelli in the late 17th century was again placed under the towers.After hard tower climbing work, head to a well-deserved lunch at one of the best restaurants in Bologna
La Bottega di Franco
Bologna food sounds quite special to me and I picked La Bottega di Franco to try it at its best. The restaurant is located at Via Agucchi 112, outside of the city centre, in an old manor house once owned by a countess from Bologna, when Via Agucchi was still immersed in the countryside. La Bottega is ideal for candlelit dinners but also not bad for business lunches. In winter you can sit at the fireplace and in summer, book a table in the large veranda to admire the beautiful garden. The kitchen offers a wide selection of appetizers varying according to the season. The first courses and dishes combine the Bolognese gastronomic tradition with classic Italian cuisine. Finally, the sweets can satisfy the tastes of the most demanding gourmets. Advance reservation is very much recommended and is accepted only by phone.After lunch, get back to the city centre to continue your explorations by walking
It starts right at the two famous towers. As you already know, Bologna is well known for being la Dotta (the Erudite), the town with the most ancient university in the western world, founded in 1088. The various faculties of Bologna University are located along Via Zamboni, so it’s the way to explore more about it. Via Zamboni is named after Luigi Zamboni, an 18th century Italian patriot, a student at Bologna University and founder of the Italian tricolour (flag). When walking through passages of Via Zamboni,make your way to
It is located in the Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore, a large church from the 13th century.The interior is rich in works of art, among which there is a painting by Ludovico Carracci, wooden crucifixes by Jacopo di Paolo and various paintings and works that decorate the chapels, among which are those of the families Poggi and Bentivogli. The Bentivoglio family chapel built in the 15th century is a real gem. It is decorated in part by Lorenzo Costa, from Ferrara, and adorned with the Virgin and saints on a throne, painted around 1494 by Francesco Francia.Then move to the nearby
Oratory of Santa Cecilia
It is a small church next to Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore from the 13th century. The cycle of paintings representing the life of Cecilia is one of the most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in Bologna. Adorned by frescoes of local painters of late 15th and early 16th century Francesco Raibolini, Lorenzo Costa and Amico Aspertini. Just recently, the oratory has been opened to the public and also some restoration has been done and lighting for frescoes has been installed.Walking further and noticing faculty buildings, you may enjoy the special atmosphere of
The Oldest University of the world
The Studio of Bologna, as was called the university in ancient times, had thousands of students, including important intellectuals of all times: Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, Erasmo da Rotterdam, Niccolò Copernico, Torquato Tasso and Carlo Goldoni, to name but a few. Along via Zamboni there is also piazza Rossini, with the seat of the music conservatory, named after father Giovanni Battista Martini, 18th century musician master of counterpoint that had the young Mozart as a pupil in the period when the great musician stayed in Bologna.You may also have a snack or a drink in student cafeteria and feel like a student of Bologna University for a little while.Then you are ready to get back to your hotel to have a well deserved rest after your Bologna exploration. As you, like me, left your car outside the city centre because of limited traffic in the old town, then stay at
CDH My One Hotel Bologna
It’s not a bad choice. Even though it’s located 7 km away from the city centre, it’s well connected with public transport to Bologna. The 4 star hotel has free big outdoor parking and a garage. Free Wi-Fi connection is provided throughout the hotel. CDH My One Hotel Bologna serves a rich buffet breakfast with local fresh products of excellent quality. And for sure it's much cheaper than the hotels in the city centre.
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Looking for more? There are great places all around Italy, one of my bucket list places is the Amalfi coast.
What did you think? Have you been to Bologna? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sāne
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveler, passionate photographer, and a retired career woman from Latvia, traveling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner planning and executing her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her also on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Bloglovin.