Bologna is often skipped over for its more-famous neighbors like Florence and Venice, but the ‘fat city’ is a perfectly child-friendly destination in Italy.
We love visiting Bologna with kids for many reasons including:
- There are plenty of rainy-day options, so you don’t need to worry about a day of your vacation being rained out
- It’s easily accessed from other cities by fast train or car (it’s on the A1 Autostrada)
- There are things to see and do for kids and adults
- It’s close to some of Italy’s best car museums, FICO Eataly World, and Mirabilandia
- It’s the gastronomic capital of Italy and there are classics that even picky eaters will love, as well as options for the more adventurous
- It’s a walkable city, even with a stroller
- It’s very photogenic – perfect for family snaps!
- It’s a little more off-the-beaten path than cities like Florence, Rome, or Venice
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Where is Bologna?
Bologna is in northern Italy and it’s the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s easily reached by train and car from major Italian cities.
Map of Bologna with Kids
Best Things to Do with Kids in Bologna
Visit the Biblioteca Salaborsa
I realize a library isn’t usually on the list of must-sees in a city. But, the Salaborsa Library is worth a visit, for both kids and adults in your group.
This colorful and spacious library is in a central location, just next to the Fountain of Neptune (Fontana del Nettuno).
Stop in here and let your kids spend time in the different kids’ areas divided by age – babies and toddlers, young children, older kids & teens. Even if you don’t have older kids, walk down to that area so you can pass the fun mirrors and wall art.
We especially love the baby area and the areas for younger kids – they’re full of wall art, fun places to sit, and so many books! Not only are there English books, but you’ll also find books in so many other languages – it’s fun for kids to see their favorite books in Finnish, Arabic, or Russian.
It’s a clean, quiet place where you can take a break from the city and let kids (and adults) rest for a bit. There are also clean toilets with changing tables next to the baby area and downstairs by the older kids’ area.
Make sure you also visit the light and spacious main section of the library, next to the baby area. The ceiling is beautiful, and you can take a break and admire it and the archaeological ruins through the transparent floor below you. You can also visit the ruins – ask for directions from the staff at the main entrance.
Find Your Favorite Toy Shops in Bologna
We love checking out toy stores in cities we visit, and Bologna’s no exception. Our favorites in the city center include:
- Città del Sole (3 branches, one of our favorite toy store chains)
- Giocheria (via Castiglione, 11)
- LEGO Store (via dell’Indipendenza, 8d) – pass by on the walk from the train station to Piazza Maggiore
Find the Hidden Canals
Show your kids the ‘Venetian’ side of Bologna – a few canals that remain in the city. An easy one to see is Canale di Reno (Reno Canal) on Via Oberdan.
Explore Palazzo Pepoli – Museo della Storia (Bologna History Museum)
Bologna’s History Museum is best visited if the adults in your family want to learn a little bit about Bologna’s history in a unique way. I know, you’re wondering how to do that with kids. The museum is fun for little ones, because the building and exhibits use light and color to create captivating visual displays. Pick up the free English audio guide as you enter.
Participate in a Cooking Class
Use your hands and make your own ravioli or special dish! Cooking classes are excellent experiences for kids and what better place to join one than in Italy’s food capital!
Try Local Specialties
Yes, you’ll find great food everywhere you go in Italy. But, Bologna is one of the best places in the country to really dig in and eat, especially with kids. Try specialties like:
- tagliatelle al ragù
- tortellini in brodo
- coppa di testa,
- mortadella (the real bologna / baloney!)
- lasagne alla bolognese
- pizza fritta
- aceto balsamico from neighboring Modena
- Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto di Parma from nearby Parma
Bologna Tour – Taste Bologna Specialties on a Guided Walking Tour
Do Eat Better Experience – Guided Traditional Food Tour
Taste Bologna – Pasta-Making Class
Go on a Food Tour
Taste Bologna runs the city’s best food tours. The Classic Food Tour is kid-friendly (and can be adapted for food allergies too!).
Climb the Asinelli Tower (Torre degli Asinelli) – currently closed
2024 Important Update: The Asinelli Tower is closed because its neighbor (Garisenda Tower) is leaning too much! Restoration is being planned for the Garisenda Tower (read about it in this New York Times article). If you want to climb a tower in Bologna, you can still climb the clock tower.
Built by the Asinelli family sometime in the early 1100s, the Asinelli is Italy’s highest leaning tower! Its shorter neighbor/twin is the also-leaning Garisenda Tower.
Buy tickets in Piazza Maggiore at the Bologna Welcome Center. It’s a timed entry (arrive 5 minutes early to wait in line and get your tickets checked at the base of the tower) and you go up with everyone but you can walk back down when you want.
There are platforms along the way so you can stop and rest or let people pass you. You’re walking up 498 stone and wooden steps. The top is totally enclosed, and you can peek out and down through wire fencing.
Good To Know: This is not the climb for anyone who has vertigo or even slight fear of heights. You’re walking up wooden stairs with wooden railings and you can see down (down, down). There are also a lot of spaces at the base of the stairs (between the stairs and the wall) that made me uncomfortable. On this trip, I climbed it with my almost 5-year-old. He was fine (loved it), but I would not bring him again, as I just felt worried about safety the entire time. I prefer tower climbs with tall, enclosed railings and stairs that extend all the way to the wall. (Note: We have climbed countless towers in Italy.)
Fun Facts: The Torre degli Asinelli is 97.2 meters tall* with an inclination of 1.3° while the Leaning Tower of Pisa is 58.36 meters tall* with an inclination of about 5.5° (in 2023). The Garisenda is 48 meters tall* and leans at 4°. *at the highest point
Ducati Museum – A Motorcycle Fan’s Dream!
The Ducati Museum is a must for motorcycle-loving little ones. It’s located just outside Bologna, but it’s easily accessed by bus from the city center.
You can tour the factory and walk around the museum. It’s got beautiful displays and it was a dream for my 4-year-old!
Explore the Porticoes
Bologna’s porticoes are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kids will enjoy some of the ‘extreme’ porticoes like:
- The Narrowest Portico – Via Senzanome
- The Frescoed Portico – Via Farini (Palazzo della Banca d’Italia)
- The Peephole Portico – Casa Seracchioli (Piazza della Mercanzia), with ‘peepholes’ in the roof.
- The Arrow Portico – Casa Isolani (Strada Maggiore), with arrows stuck in the roof from a failed kidnap attempt in the 1400s.
Explore the Mercato di Mezzo
Walk around this lively market in the Quadrilatero District. We love eating here as a family because everyone can pick out what they want!
We also love eating outside on the small streets of the Quadrilatero. Kids delight in people-watching while they eat. Get a platter of local cured meats and cheeses or go straight for tortellini in brodo or tagliatelle al ragù. If you enjoy eating ragù in Bologna, try making it at home with our Easy Ragù Recipe!
You can also wander to the Mercato delle Erbe to purchase ingredients for a picnic (let your child practice Italian!). Walk by the food and produce stands to see what’s in season and discover the typical food of Bologna.
Play at a Bologna Park or Playground
Bologna has a few green spaces where your kids can run around and have fun at the playground with other kids. Our favorites are:
- Giardini Margherita – large green space just outside the city walls with a fun playground
- Parco 11 Settembre – nice kids playground and place to get snacks and drinks
Other playgrounds can be found at the Parco di Villa Angeletti, the Giardino Graziella Fava, and the Parco della Montagnola.
Our favorite playground in the area is just outside Bologna in San Lazzaro di Savena – the Parco Europa.
Take the Trenino
The little trains that depart from Piazza del Nettuno (on weekends and holidays) and Piazza Maggiore (weekdays) have route around the city (40 minutes) and up to San Luca and back (30 minutes each way plus a 40-minute visit of San Luca). Not only are the little trains a great way to see some of the city, they’re perfect on a rainy or hot day, or if little legs just need a rest!
Good To Know: If you have a stroller, you can take it with you on the train.
Good To Know: During the quieter months of November – March, the city train only runs on the weekends, and occasionally during the week. If you’ll be there during the week, you can call the operator to find out if the city train is running the day you’ll be there.
Macchina Del Tempo (Time Machine)
If you have a video game fan, head to Bologna’s Time Machine and try one of the VR experiences. For kids, we recommend ‘Tower and Power,’ which takes you amongst towers and streets of Medieval Bologna. For kids younger than 8, it’s automatic (your child just watches and listens), while older kids can control where they go. You (the adult) can see on the monitor what your child is seeing.
My son tried it and enjoyed it, even though he’s under 8 and couldn’t control where he went.
Basilica di San Petronio
Enter around noon to see Europe’s longest sundial in action. There’s a hole in the ceiling (27 meters up!) and midday, the light shines onto the floor to the meridian line.
Even if you don’t make it at noon, you can still let your kids find their birth months in marble on the floor.
Kids also enjoy hunting for seashell fossils in the orange stone or spying San Petronio’s relics in his chapel.
Bologna Christmas Markets
At the French Christmas Market, let your little ones feast on pain au chocolat while you enjoy a glass of French red wine and a French cheese platter.
Other Things to Do in Bologna with Kids:
Bologna Botanical Museum
The entrance is free and it’s a nice break from city streets. Our kids love stopping by the pond and looking for colorful flowers.
Kids can see how noble families lived. If you can, book the guided tour so your kids can ask questions as they walk around the palazzo.
Shop at a Flea Market
Flea markets aren’t that common in Italy, but there are quite a few places to buy used goods and clothing in Bologna. Check out the Crocevia Mercato dell’Usato and the Mercatino delle Pulci.
See Michelangelo’s Work at San Domenico Basilica
If your kids are Michelangelo fans (maybe you’ve just seen his David in the Accademia Gallery in Florence), you can see some of his work while you’re in Bologna. Michelangelo helped carve the marble tomb of San Domenico by making the small sculptures of an angel (holding a torch), St. Petronius, and St. Proclus.
Transport to Bologna with Kids
Getting to Bologna By Car
You can drive to Bologna, but be aware that parking isn’t easy and the city center has ZTLs (limited traffic zones) which you must avoid (or receive a fine). It’s best not to drive past the city walls, and only park in blue spaces (making sure you pay for a ticket from a nearby machine and display the ticket on your dashboard).
You can also park in a garage like Garage Autostazione (Piazza XX Settembre, 6). It’s pricey, but only a 15-minute walk to the center, which is great if you’ve got kids with you.
Getting to Bologna by Train
Bologna is easy to see on a day trip from Florence and neighboring cities. It’s on the main train line so you can take the high-speed trains. Use the toilet on the train (free) or at the Bologna train station (1€).
Good To Know: There is a playground and fountain with fun statues next to the station in the Parco della Montagnola. It’s not our favorite play area in Bologna, but the fountain is fun to look at if you’ve got time to spare while you’re waiting for your train.
Read more about Train Travel in Italy
Getting to Bologna by Plane
Bologna has its own international airport (BLQ) and it has flights to and from major destinations around the world at competitive prices. You can take the Marconi Express train to the Bologna Centrale train station, or take the bus to the city’s bus station (next to the train station).
Getting Around Bologna with Kids
We move around exclusively on foot. Even if it’s hot out or raining, you’ll spend a lot of time under the porticoes.
With kids, we also love taking the little train (trenino).
If you need to, you can take the bus or a taxi.
Family-Friendly Places to Stay in Bologna
Santo Stefano Apartments – Apartments on Via Santo Stefano, near the large Margherita Park (with playground) and the pedestrian area of Piazza Santo Stefano. Close to main sites in town.
Residence Adriano – Self-catering apartments near the Parco 11 Settembre (with playground). Close to the Mercato delle Erbe and a quick 10-12 minute walk to Piazza Maggiore.
Check out my general guide to Accommodations in Italy
Where to Eat in Bologna with Kids
There are so many incredible places in Bologna. Take a peek at the food at the tables (do you want to eat it?), look at the menu (does it serve the Bologna classics?).
Where to eat? We love:
- La Baita Vecchia Malga (Via Peschiere Vecchie, 3a. +39 051.223940.)
- Zerocinquantello (Via Pescherie Vecchie, 2b. +39 051.0470743.)
- Osteria dell’Orsa (Piazza San Martino, 4°. +39 051.0548873.)
- Trattoria di Via Serra (Via Luigi Serra, 9b. +39 051.6312330.)
Helpful Tip: If you need a highchair, it’s best to call ahead, as often there’s only one or two in the restaurant.
Along with the Mercato del Mezzo and food shops in Bologna, you can also find great food souvenirs at Bologna’s Eataly locations – Ambasciatori and FICO (outside the city center).
Things to Do with Kids on a Rainy Day in Bologna
Bologna’s city center has almost 40 kilometers of porticoes – that’s a lot of covered walkways! So, if it’s raining on your visit, don’t fret! Along with strolling under the porticoes, you can do plenty of things indoors with little ones, like:
- Visit the Salaborsa Library
- Explore the digital displays at Palazzo Pepi – Museo della Storia di Bologna
- Browse bookstores and toy shops
- Eat! Grab a family-style meat and cheese platter or settle in for a full meal
- Go on a food tour
- Visit the VR Museum and experience Bologna in the Middle Ages
Family-Friendly Things to Do and See Near Bologna
Ferrari Museums in Maranello & Modena
We love the Ferrari museums and we’ve got the scoop on which one you should visit with your kids.
Lamborghini Museum MUDETEC
The Lamborghini Museum is a guaranteed hit for any supercar fans in your family.
Dulcamara Petting Zoo
You can eat at the restaurant or just stop by the farm to visit the animals.
FICO World Bologna
It doesn’t seem to be at its full potential yet, but it’s a great place to visit with small children for the rides and colorful, kid-friendly stands and displays.
Home to Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto di Parma, the colorful city makes a nice stop with kids.
We love basing family in Modena for visits to the car museums, but you can also spend a day in the city sampling balsamic vinegar, climbing the tower, and wandering through its beautiful piazzas and streets. Read more about Visiting Modena with Kids.
One of Italy’s most unique and majestic castles. It’s best for older kids (who have the attention span to go on the tour). Read more about the Best Italian Castles to Visit with Kids.
Kids and adults will love looking up at the enormous, colorful mosaics in the 8 monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage list. But there’s more to see with your kids in Ravenna besides mosaics! Check out our post on Ravenna with Kids.
Located just outside Bologna in Anzola dell’Emilia, this is a factory where gelato machines are made. There are a variety of kid-friendly tours available. Kids will love tasting the gelato and sorbetto or the gelato-making workshop. Limited open days and hours.
On a hot summer day, bring the kids to this clean, spacious, and well-maintained water park just outside Bologna.
If you need a break from the city, take the bus (or drive) out to San Lazzaro di Savena to visit this small park with dinosaur statues. Dinosaur fans will love it, and you can combine it with a visit to the playground nearby and the Luigi Donini Museum of Prehistory (excellent displays, medieval weapons, ask for a tour in English).
Using a Stroller in Bologna
It’s easy to get around Bologna with a stroller. The pavement under the porticoes is smooth and the sidewalks are wide. You’ll occasionally run into a few steps.
Read more about what to bring – see our Packing List for Italy with Kids
Changing Diapers in Bologna
There are public bathrooms sprinkled around the city but they aren’t always open, clean, or set up with a changing table. The best public toilet (with a changing area) is the one on Via IV Novembre, near the main piazza (Piazza Maggiore).
Another great place to change a diaper or use the toilet is the Salaborsa Library (Biblioteca Salaborsa), next to Neptune’s Fountain.
Car Free Streets in Bologna
There aren’t many places in Bologna that are car-free (a taxi or local vehicle can always come through), so stay aware with little ones.
We found the area between Piazza Santo Stefano and Piazza della Mercanzia to be nice to let kids move freely.
Otherwise, head to Giardini Margherita or the Parco 11 Settembre for playgrounds and green space.
Baby Supplies in Bologna
If you run out of diapers, wipes, or diaper cream, you can find supplies at any of the city grocery stores like Carrefour Express, Pam Local, Coop, or Conad City. You can also find baby food and formula. Because they’re smaller city stores, the selection will be limited.
You can also find any of those items at a pharmacy, and there are many of them scattered around the city.
MammaMamma rents baby equipment like strollers and car seats and sells baby supplies.
Bologna with Kids FAQ
The MAMbo (Modern Art Museum of Bologna) is a must for Giorgio Morandi fans, but probably won’t keep the attention of children. It is an excellent place for an evening aperitivo if you have a baby (that likes to hang out/sleep in the stroller).