10 Unforgettable Bologna Experiences You Must Have

Bologna must do Piazza Maggiore

There are many ways to visit a place.
With a Lonely Planet on your hand, with an expat friend showing you around, or following a list of places marked on Google Maps.

Any way you choose, for me the most important thing is the spirit to learn something new.

Here you find my list of must-do things to do in Bologna.

1. Walk day and night under the porticoes

For me, the best way to visit Bologna (and all the other cities) is to walk.

While walking you get the smell of fresh bread, you hear people yelling about football outside a bar, you see the details of the doors and feel the stones of the pavement under your feet.

Here you have one more reason to walk: the porticoes of Bologna.

No other places in the world have kilometers of covered streets like Bologna.

Start in Piazza Maggiore, close Google Maps and then go.
Follow your instinct.
The nice surprises are in every corner.

2. Look at Bologna from a tower

La turrita.

It's one of the many nicknames Bologna could have on Instagram.

It means full of towers.

Asinelli and Garisenda are the most famous, but not the only ones to offer the Bologna best views.

Climb Asinelli's tower for a 360° panoramic view.
Go up to Prendiparte's or sleep in his only room.
Or visit San Pietro Basilica's bell tower, my favourite, to see San Petronio and the hills of Bologna from a different perspective.

3. Join a food tour

Ok, I know, this seems biased.
A food tour company that suggests having a food tour: original!

But whether you choose our Bologna food tour or another one, let me explain why.

Do we all agree that its food tradition is one of the reasons to visit Bologna?

Great. If you only spend a weekend in Bologna, or maybe less, you have a few shots to get the best from it.

You will wander around our food markets but most of the producers and even food can look the same.

A food tour optimizes your choices and condenses info and stories in a short time.
And you'll get suggestions about how to get the best from the rest of your time.

Bologna must do activities

Piazza Maggiore and the 2 towers

4. Follow the steps of Niccolò Dell'Arca

Visiting churches can be boring.
We've all thought that once, didn't we?

But sometimes you just need to know where to look to completely change an idea.

I dare you to visit the Compianto in Santa Maria Della Vita and not feel in front of something great.

Or enter that gently lit chapel in San Domenico Basilica, walk around the arc with 3 statues of Michelangelo and not feel one of the few lucky ones who know about it.

Italian sculptor Niccolò dell'Arca made both works. And you can't go back home without meeting him.

5. Spend time between the books

Ever heard about the oldest University of Western civilization?

Here we are!
(Paris's Sorbonne you're late, sorry. You have Gioconda, leave this)

And what would be the best way to enter this century-old book of knowledge?

No, it's not drinking a Peroni beer in Piazza Verdi, but visiting a Bologna library.

The Archiginnasio with its anatomical theatre has to be the first on your list.
and its Roman ruins to walk on, the next.
But both Biblioteca Universitaria in Via Zamboni and the cinema library of Cineca are all worth a visit.

Bologna must do San Luca

San Luca Basilica portico

6. Relax in the green of Giardini Margherita

We have many parks and gardens in Bologna.
Most of them, unfortunately, are outside the city centre or locked inside private gates.

But there's one, large, park where everybody goes.
It's our Central Park without Woody Allen, our Tiergarten without a zoo but with swans.

It's Giardini Margherita.

When do I suggest visiting it?
In the afternoon, before dinner.

Watch locals play basketball (our city sport), get a drink and relax at the Serre, or get a good granita at the bar near Porta Castiglione to open your stomach.

7. Watch a movie at Cineteca

Call it hipster, indie, snob or fashion victim.

Cineteca di Bologna is so f*)£=$ cool, day and night, winter or summer.

Speaking of summer, the open-air cinema in Piazza Maggiore from June to August is a worth-a-plane activity.

The rest of the year the cinema district in Via Azzo Gardino offers the last best movies (in original language), exhibitions, courses for adults or kids and more.

If you don't have the time at least visit its bookshop near the whispering walls of Palazzo Re Enzo.

In 2023 also Cinema Modernissimo reopened: a liberty-style cinema just two steps from Piazza Maggiore.

PS. Cineteca doesn't pay me to promote it, even if I mention it every 2 posts.

8. Learn why Bologna is a city of water

It happened more than once during our tours.

"This street until the 1950s was a canal, with boats floating on it"

And you see them looking at you thinking:

"Andrea, you didn't have to order that extra bottle of Pignoletto at lunch"

Bologna was actually full of canals but you need proof, I get it.

First stop: Via Piella and its window on the canal. Even if the best view is on the opposite side.

Second stop: rent a bike and follow the bike rides that from Certosa Cemetery bring you to Talon park in Casalecchio. In the end, you'll see where the water comes from.

Third one: inside the Museo della Storia di Bologna in Palazzo Pepoli there's a magnificent room dedicated to water that will make you feel like a Ninja turtle.

Bologna must do Santo Stefano

Piazza Santo Stefano

9. Live Bologna's nightlife until dawn

If so many locals complain about the noisy nights in the University area, would it be worth checking if they are right?

Via del Pratello, Via Zamboni, Via Mascarella would be the perfect setting for one of the most famous Coen brothers' movies.

Start with an aperitivo near Mercato delle Erbe, then Pignoletto at Osteria del Sole until Nicola rings the bell, and keep going.

Don't listen to those who say that osterie in Bologna are dead. They're just tired.

Osterie now may have different names but the essence can never change.

In Bologna every night is the weekend and in every place, you'll find a reason to stay out a bit more.

Watch how they did it at We are who we are to get inspiration.

10. Walk up the hills to San Luca Basilica

This is a real must.
And you don't have excuses, my 89-year-old neighbor walks up there every day, I promise.

So there's this Basilica on a hill.
It's the first thing you see from your Ryanair window when you land.

But to say that you've been there you can't just rent a car, jump on a bus and arrive there to take a selfie.

It doesn't work like this.

The best part of San Luca Basilica is the walk to San Luca Basilica.

Broken steps, songs written on the walls, suicidal thoughts if you had too much lasagne.

This is going to San Luca.
This is Bologna.

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