Visit Bologna’s essential landmarks and monuments on this 2-day itinerary. Our tips for restaurants, hotels, and getting around Bologna Italy!
Bologna has always been known as Italy’s food capital, but it continues to gain even more recognition. Condé Nast Readers voted it the city with the best food – not just in Italy, but in the entire world!
I’m not one to argue. We’re a quick train ride from Bologna and I’m always happy to head north for some of Bologna’s delicious food.
But there’s more to Bologna than tagliatelle al ragù and tortellini in brodo. You’ll surely enjoy a visit to the city for its:
- Almost 40 kilometers of porticoed streets
- Gorgeous and varied medieval architecture
- University – the oldest continually operating one in the world
- Walkable, photogenic city center
- Tendency to be less visited and crowded than Italy hotspots like Florence, Venice, and Rome
- Friendly locals
- Location near some of the best car museums in Italy
- Proximity to other foodie centers
Here’s our plan for how to spend 2 days in Bologna. It’s busy, so feel free to remove stops if you want to have a more relaxing visit.
Good To Know: If you want to delve deep into the history of Bologna and the buildings and monuments you’ll see on this 2-day itinerary, I recommend bringing a guidebook with you.
If you’re coming with your family, check out our Guide to Visiting Bologna with Kids!
Andiamo – let’s go!
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Where is Bologna?
Bologna is the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. It’s easy to reach by train because it’s on the fast lines, and it’s also on the A1 and A13 Autostrade, making arriving by car simple as well.
How to Pronounce Bologna
Bologna is not pronounced buh-LOH-nee. In Italian, Bologna is pronounced boh-LOH-nyah.
Helpful Tip: The ‘nyah’ is like the ‘ny’ in canyon, but instead of touching the tip of your tongue to the top of the front of your mouth, you touch the middle part of your tongue to the middle part of your mouth.
Listen to it here:
When Should You Visit Bologna?
Bologna can be visited year-round. Even if the weather isn’t ideal, you’ll be covered by the porticoes and there are plenty of indoor activities.
Best Times to Visit Bologna
Spring (March – May) and autumn (September – November) are pleasant months for a visit. The weather is mild, and classes are in session, and this university city is at its liveliest.
We love visiting in November, December, January, and February, because the chilly weather is perfect for hearty Bolognese food. Apart from Christmas, it’s also much less crowded than other times of the year.
Christmas time in Bologna is especially beautiful, and the city has a couple of Christmas markets and festive lights and decorations.
Bologna also has some festivals worth visiting for, like the International Mortadella Festival “Mortadella, Please.”
When Not to Visit Bologna
Summer in Bologna (July and August) can be hot! You can spend time in the shade underneath the porticoes, but don’t be surprised if you feel like heading to the beach – on the Adriatic or Mediterranean coast.
Bologna hosts trade fairs and expos, so it’s a good idea to check out the schedule. You’ll often find a shortage of rooms and higher rates during major trade fairs.
Trying to decide when to visit Italy? Check out our monthly guides:
Italy in January
Italy in February
Italy in March
Italy in April
Italy in May
Italy in June
Italy in October
Italy in November
Italy in December
Map of Things to Do in Bologna
How to Spend 2 Days in Bologna – Day 1
Arrive in Bologna, probably by car or train. If you’re coming from the train station, walk into town along Via dell’Indipendenza, strolling underneath the porticoes until you reach Piazza del Nettuno.
1. Piazza del Nettuno
Admire Neptune’s Fountain (Fontana del Nettuno) in the center of the piazza. One of Bologna’s main symbols, the fountain is a perfect place for a photo – but make sure you look closely at it.
The Neptune sculpture was completed by Giambologna, and you’ll see it on many logos for Bologna products and companies. Neptune’s trident was actually the inspiration for the Maserati logo (the company is based in nearby Modena).
2. Salaborsa Library
After checking out the fountain, look to the western side of the square, and enter the Salaborsa Library (Biblioteca Salaborsa). Head straight back into the main part of the library, where you’ll appreciate the large, airy space and its gorgeous ceiling and Roman ruins beneath the floor.
Good To Know: If you want to see the archaeological ruins, ask the staff on the left as you enter the library.
3. Piazza Maggiore
Outside, and connected to Piazza del Nettuno, you’ll see Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main square. Stand in the center of the grand square and rotate to see the buildings or take a seat at a café and soak up the ambiance while you sip on a cappuccino. The notable buildings in the square include Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo del Podestà, and Palazzo dei Banchi.
4. Basilica di San Petronio
Step inside the not-quite-finished Basilica di San Petronio (Basilica of Saint Petronius) to see the unique sundial (look up at the left ceiling toward the center of the church and along the floor of the left side). Try to find your birth month on the stone floor.
5. Explore Quadrilatero & Mercato di Mezzo
At this point, you’re probably getting hungry. Wander into the Mercato di Mezzo and the Quadrilatero neighborhood and start salivating over Bologna’s incredible food! Eye the finished dishes on restaurant tables, see the fresh pasta for sale, check out the legs of prosciutto hanging from the ceilings, and the chunks of decadent Parmigiano Reggiano.
Good To Know: The ‘Quadrilatero’ neighborhood is a quadrilateral shape bordered by the streets: Via dell’Archiginnasio, Via Farini, Via Castiglione, and Via Rizzoli.
6. Have a Relaxing Lunch
Have a sit-down, casual meal in the neighborhood either inside the market or at a restaurant in one of the narrow, busy side lanes. We enjoy lunch at Zerocinquantello or La Baita Vecchia Malga (both of Via Pescherie Vecchie) or stroll back down to Via dell’Indipendenza for a quick (and delizioso) panino at Mo’ Mortadella Lab.
7. Stroll the Porticoes
Bellies full, it’s time for an afternoon passeggiata (stroll), so wander around the porticoes and do some window-shopping before the next stop – but don’t drift too far away!
8. Archiginnasio di Bologna
This complex was once part of the university, but now it’s a library and anatomical theatre. Check out the coats of arms all over the building (even on the ceiling!) and make sure you enter the anatomical theatre (yes, the marble slab in the center of the room is where the cadaver was placed for dissections).
9. Climb the Asinelli Tower
Now it’s time for a climb, so make your way to Le Due Torri – the Two Towers. The Garisenda Tower (Torre della Garisenda) and Asinelli Tower (Torre degli Asinelli), both leaning towers.
Purchase your tickets from the Welcome Bologna office in Piazza Maggiore (don’t head straight to the tower expecting to buy a ticket there). You’ll choose a time slot (15-minute increments) and show up at the base of the tower five minutes before your time. The staff will check your ticket, and up you go!
Fun Fact: Garisenda Tower leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa (4% vs 3.9%)!
Now it’s time for the important Italian ritual of aperitivo. Depending on where you’ll be having dinner, we recommend:
MamBo – Via Don Giovanni Nimzoni, 14. +39 051.649.6611.
Osteria del Sole – Vicolo Ranocchi, 1d.
Ruggine – Vicolo Alemagna, 2c. +39 051.4125663.
Or duck into a cozy-looking bar or streetside café and enjoy your pre-dinner drinks (Aperol spritz, anyone?) and nibbles with locals and visitors.
11. Dinner – Bologna Style
And now, for the main event! Even if you typically eat a light dinner, brush that habit away and really dig into Bologna cuisine – hearty, pork and cheese-based dishes. Go for multiple courses, and don’t hold back – you can diet in two days (after you leave Bologna).
Following dinner, make your way to your hotel. Take the long way there and enjoy Bologna in the evening – the red buildings are gorgeous at night and the entire city seems to be out enjoying the city’s cuisine.
How to Spend 2 Days in Bologna – Day 2
Rise and shine and get ready for your second day in La Grassa (the fat one). Eat breakfast at your hotel or do have colazione like an Italian – shimmy up to the bar and order an espresso and a pastry of your choice. But don’t eat too much…
1. Bologna Food Tour
Start your day off right with a food tour of Bologna. Taste Bologna offers a variety of tours, and we recommend their classic tour. You’ll be whisked off to Bologna’s best spots for traditional Bolognese cibo (food). This is the time to ask any questions you have about tortellini or Bolognese sauce (why doesn’t yours taste the same?).
If the Taste Bologna tour doesn’t work with your schedule, there are other tours available like:
Bologna Tour – Taste Bologna Specialties on a Guided Walking Tour
Do Eat Better Experience – Guided Traditional Food Tour
Good To Know: Your food tour will include today’s lunch.
2. Santo Stefano Square & Church
When you’re finished, make your way to the Basilica di Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Basilica). It’s actually a complex composed of 7(!) churches that were built in different ways at different times. Entrance is free, but a donation is suggested.
After, hang out on Santo Stefano square or make your way down the pedestrian section of Via Santo Stefano between the Basilica and the Piazza della Mercanzia.
Good To Know: If you have room in your belly after your morning food tour, stop in at our favorite gelateria in Bologna – Cremeria La Vecchia Stalla. (Via Santo Stefano, 14a).
3. Santuario Madonna di San Luca
Along with the Neptune Fountain and the Two Towers, San Luca is a main symbol of Bologna. It’s the church you can see towering above Bologna (when we’re driving on the Autostrada we always know we’re close to Bologna when we see San Luca).
It’s a little under 5 km to the Sanctuary – and the last part has some elevation gain. You’ll gain 200 meters on the walk, much of it under the lengthy San Luca portico. It’s a beautiful walk, and you’ll likely see some cyclists on their way up too.
If you don’t feel like walking up (or down), you can take the San Luca Express trenino (little train) from the center of Bologna to San Luca. It’s about 30 minutes each way plus a 40-ish minute visit to San Luca.
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.
4. Afternoon Coffee
If you didn’t get a coffee at San Luca, find a spot back in the city center and enjoy a beverage. Depending on the time of year or your mood, make it an espresso, cioccolata calda (hot chocolate), or glass of refreshing Lambrusco.
Grab your bags at your hotel, and head to your car or the train station. We hope you’ve enjoyed your time in Bologna!
Good To Know: You can also switch the mornings of Day 1 (#s 1-6) with Day 2 (#1 – Food Tour) of this itinerary if you want to start off with a ‘foodie intro’ to the city!
More Things to Do in Bologna
If you decide to stick around longer, here are a few more things you can do in Bologna. They’re all on the map above.
Music Museum – Duck into the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica to see the collection of music handwritten by greats like Mozart and the musical instruments (harpsichords, keyboards, violins, flutes, pianos, horns, oboes, and more).
Medieval Museum – Learn about Bologna in the Middle Ages and see armor, documents from that time, and beautiful frescoes inside the museum.
Hidden Canals – Find one of Bologna’s hidden canals and see the ‘Venetian’ side of the city. They’re very ‘instagrammable’ and can be very busy with visitors taking photos.
Botanical Garden – If you’re looking for a quiet spot in the city (besides the Salaborsa Library), spend some time relaxing in Bologna’s Botanical Garden.
Giardini Margherita – This is a nice place to go for a jog or long walk. It’s green, full of strolling, jogging, and cycling bolognesi, and it’s just outside the city walls.
Mercato delle Erbe – Stop by the Mercato delle Erbe for fresh fruit to snack on or grab a quick bite to eat.
Palazzo Pepoli – Museo della Storia di Bologna (Bologna History Museum) – If you’re in any way interested in Bologna’s past, make a trip to the city’s history museum. It makes use of digital displays and tells Bologna’s story in a unique way.
Where to Eat in Bologna
No matter where you end up eating in Bologna, this is the place to stick to the classics. Don’t wander far from the region’s traditional ingredients and dishes 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
Sample these dishes and others at:
Osteria dell’Orsa (Piazza San Martino, 4°. +39 051.0548873.)
Trattoria di Via Serra (Via Luigi Serra, 9b. +39 051.6312330.)
Ristorante I Portici (Via dell’Indipendenza, 69. +39 051.4218562.) – One Michelin star dining in the city. Creative cuisine in an elegant, unique setting.
Va Mo Là (Via delle Moline, 3a. +39 051.237201.) – Used to be a bookstore, now serves up traditional Bolognese dishes.
Cantina Bentivoglio (Via Mascarella, 4b. +39 051.265416.) – Listen to live jazz music while you dine on traditional food from the region.
La Baita Vecchia Malga (Via Peschiere Vecchie, 3a. +39 051.223940.) – Casual dining in a lively deli/trattoria.
Zerocinquantello (Via Pescherie Vecchie, 2b. +39 051.0470743.) – Sit outside and people-watch as you dine on traditional Bolognese food. Excellent for a quick cured meat and local cheese platter.
Pizzeria Spacca Napoli (Via S. Vitale, 45a. +39 051.261743.) – If you’re really craving pizza, this is your place.
Good To Know: If you’ve got a restaurant you really want to eat at, call or email ahead and make a reservation.
Follow our recipe to make your own easy ragù when you get home!
How to Get to Bologna
Driving to Bologna
If you’re stopping in Bologna on your Italian road trip, be aware that parking isn’t easy and the city center has ZTLs (limited traffic zones) which you must avoid (or receive a fine). To avoid getting a ticket – don’t 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 along Via dell’Indipendenza.
If you’re planning on driving in Italy, check out our posts on:
Renting a Car in Italy
Italian Gas Stations and Getting Gas in Italy
Important Italian Road Signs
Driving in Italy
International Driving Permit for Italy
Renting a Car in Italy with a US Driver’s License
Italian Toll Roads – Driving on the Autostrada
Paying Tolls in Italy
Parking in Italy + Parking Sign Translations
Taking the Train to Bologna
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 (alta velocità) trains.
Helpful Tip: Use the toilet on the train (free) or at the Bologna train station (1€).
Flying to Bologna
Bologna has its own international airport (BLQ – aka Bologna Guglielmo Marconi airport) and it has flights to and from major destinations around the world at competitive prices. It’s an easy airport to fly into / out of (we use it often for national and trans-Atlantic flights).
To get to the city center, 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
We find that walking is the best way to get around Bologna. True, it’s not a tiny village! It takes us around 40 minutes to walk from the Bologna Centrale train station to Porta Santo Stefano on the other side of the city. And that’s without stops.
If walking around Bologna gets to be too much, you do have other options:
- Take a taxi. You can get one at a taxi stand (you can’t hail them). The three you’ll probably notice are at the train station, on Via dell’Indipendenza, and near the Basilica di San Petronio. You can also call +39 051.372727 and a taxi will come to pick you up.
- Take the trenino. Bologna’s ‘little trains’ aren’t just for kids! You can take the train up to San Luca and back, and sometimes an additional train runs a loop around the city. See Santuario Maddona di San Luca above.
- Take the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s not cheap, but the double-decker bus is a nice way to see the city and rest your legs.
Where to Stay in Bologna
For this 2-day itinerary, you’ll want to stay somewhere in the center. It’s nice to be able to have dinner and then stroll back to your hotel (without worrying about a long walk or having to take a taxi).
Luxury – Grand Hotel Majestic (ex Baglioni) – Bologna’s top luxury hotel, located in an 18th-century palazzo.
Mid-Range – B&B Casa Faccioli – Book a room with a balcony
Budget – Santo Stefano Apartments – Quiet location near Piazza Santo Stefano
Families – Residence Adriano – Self-Catering apartments, close to 11 Settembre Park and Playground
Good To Know: Bologna is a hub for large trade fairs and conferences. Try to avoid them, as room rates go up and there is often very limited room availability.
Best Things to Do Near Bologna
Want to extend your trip in the area? There are so many things to see and do near Bologna, including:
Labirinto della Masone – Walk through the world’s largest maze / labyrinth! Read our Guide to Mason’s Labyrinth.
Modena – Aceto balsamico and supercars steal the show in Modena. Read our Guide to Modena with Kids.
Lamborghini Museum – Small but mighty museum. Read about Visiting the Lamborghini Museum – MUDETEC.
Ferrari Museums – There are two(!) Ferrari Museums nearby – the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena and the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. Can’t decide which Ferrari Museum to visit? You may want to check out Ferrari Museums in Modena and Maranello – Which Should You Visit?
FICO World Eataly – Foodies can visit Italy’s theme park that’s focused on food. Find out How Many Eataly’s There are in Italy.
Ducati Museum – Motorcycle lovers won’t want to miss this museum just outside Bologna (easily reachable by bus).
Rocchetta Mattei – In a country full of castles, this one’s unique. Book the tour to learn more about its history. Read more about our favorite Italian Castles to Visit with Kids.
Dozza – Check out the painted murals and a gorgeous and interesting castle. Read more about Visiting Dozza, Italy.
I hope this has given you an idea of how to spend 2 days in Bologna. Enjoy your time in the food capital of the world!
First trip to Italy? 10th? Either way, check out our 200+ Essential Italy Travel Tips!
How should I spend one day in Bologna?
With just one day in Bologna, either do day 1 of our itinerary, or go on a food tour, and then climb the Torre degli Asinelli and explore the Piazza Maggiore area (including the Piazza del Nettuno, Salaborsa Library, and Basilica di San Petronio.