Bologna Itinerary Ideas

Tom and I first visited Bologna for a few hours in January 2020 before flying home after our extended winter trip, and Tom and I really liked the vibe. We put it on our list of places to return to and made our first three day trip to Bologna with my mom in June 2021. She really enjoyed it, and we’ve been back several times in the last few years. We’ve visited in all four seasons now, so I’m happy to share some of my favorites to help you put together your own Bologna itinerary!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you.  You can read my full disclosure policy here.

Why Visit Bologna?

Bologna is considered to be one of the food capitals of Italy. The entire Emilia Romagna region is tasty, but even within the region, you’ll find certain regional specialties. And personally, the food has not disappointed. It’s what lured me in the first time, and it’s kept me going back to dig deeper. Everything has a very local vibe. I loved the Christmas markets in Bologna, especially the French market.

My mom likes Bologna because it feels alive. It’s not a frantic pace like Rome or even Florence, but it doesn’t feel like a shell of a city when the day trippers leave. It feels lived in. When we visited, there were students everywhere. The outdoor cafes and restaurants were bustling. She also likes the food.

Tom likes all of that, but he also liked how easy it is to walk long distances easily. We made the pilgrimage up to San Luca by following the porticos. (It is further than it seems.) He loves the 7 Churches because its a trip through time. And, he also loves the food.

I believe there is something for everyone in Bologna. However, if you’re going to just check off “big Italian sites,” this isn’t your place. You go to Bologna for the local Emilia Romagna foods. For the architectural delights of the porticos and the seven churches. And, for the feeling of being in a place that is alive beyond the guise of mass tourism.

Journey of Doing - Click here for everything you need to plan the perfect Bologna itinerary, including where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Bologna!

Getting to Bologna

Bologna is easily accessible from both Italy and abroad. We’ve flown into, trained into, and driven into Bologna. It’s easy, and it’s central location makes it easy to explore numerous areas throughout central Italy and beyond.

Bologna by Plane

Flying into Bologna may be easier and more cost effective than flying into Florence. We’ve flown into Bologna on British Airways, Air France, and ITA. All of our experiences have been great. It’s an easy airport to navigate. It offers more flights than Florence (FLR) but it’s not quite as frantic as Pisa (PSA). We have access to the Priority Pass lounge in Bologna, which is outside of security, but they have a special security lane for members, so it’s super easy to get to your gate. Another thing I love about the Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) is that it’s connected to the train station via a people mover. This makes it very easy to fly in and out of because you can easily connect via train.

Bologna by Train

The main train station in Bologna is a short walk from the city center. Bologna is about an hour from Florence, about 1.5 hours from Milan, and under 2 hours from Venice via the Italian Eurostar trains. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from Bologna Centrale to the city center. Thre streets in Bologna are very flat and make for an easy walk. It’s far easier to walk from the train station to the Bologna city center than it is to walk from the Florence train station to the city enter. It’s way less crowded, but there are less cobblestones and the porticos keep you cool, even in the summer months.

Bologna by Car

Last year, we flew into Bologna from Paris, picked up a car at the airport, and drove into Bologna to visit the French Christmas Market. It took us about 20 minutes to drive from the airport to central Bologna. There are a lot of parking lots nearby, so that was really easy.

From Bologna, we drove to Villa Cordevigo, which took just under two hours. If you want to take a foodie trip through Emilia Romagna, you could drive to Modena (1 hour) or Parma (1.5 hours), both of which we’ve visited as part of our extended Bologna itinerary. We’ve also driven from Bologna to Venice, which takes just under 2 hours. Just FYI: You don’t need your car for day-to-day activities in Bologna. On weekends, the city becomes extra pedestrian friendly, so it might be more of a hassle to have a car. You just have to figure out what makes the most sense for your trip and your budget.

If you don’t want to trek out to the airport, several rental car agencies have offices at the Bologna Central Station so you can pick up a car at the end of your time in Bologna.

Journey of Doing - Bologna at Christmas

How to Plan Your Bologna Itinerary

I’m not a big believer in day trips. Not only are day trips rough on the local economy, but I feel like you really lose out on the essence of a place. Bologna is no exception. The city truly comes alive during the evening, and I love strolling through the porticos and seeing so many people out and enjoying their evening. The ambiance of the evening in Bologna shouldn’t be missed.

When planning your trip to Bologna, it’s helpful to look at tour itineraries and schedules. Since it’s a smaller Italian city, not all tours run all the time. Many good tours fill up quickly. It’s definitely one of those places where you’ll want to make a list of what you want to do and see before booking accommodations. The same is true with restaurants. It really helps to sketch out an itinerary that makes sense for you versus hoping to book upon arrival.

So what’s the perfect amount of time in Bologna? I think you can get a sense of place by spending 3 days in Bologna. If you wanted to see more of the popular cities in Emilia Romagna, I would do 2 nights in Bologna and 2 nights in Parma and/or 2 nights in Modena. We really loved Parma, especially in the early summer. It’s an easy road trip.

Journey of Doing - Click here for everything you need to plan the perfect Bologna itinerary, including where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Bologna!

Things to Do in Bologna

Take a Cooking Class in Bologna

As one of the foodie capitals of Italy, I highly recommend taking a pasta class in Bologna. Our class took place at one of the (handmade) pasta factories in Bologna, which provides handmade pasta to a local shop.  Martina and Consuela were excellent teachers, and we shared many laughs as we tried to learn to make those tiny tortellinis.

This class is focused on making pasta by hand. In addition to cutting tagliatelle, we learned to fill and shape tortellini and tortelli.  While we learned to roll the pasta dough, Martina showed us how to make different fillings for the different pasta shapes.  The larger tortelli contained a classic ricotta and Spinach filling. For the tortelli, Martina showed us how to make a tomato and butter sauce with a sprinkle of fresh parmesan. The simple sauce allowed all the flavors to shine. The sauce did not compete with the pasta.

The tortellini is filled with a blend of local meats and cheese. Tortellini in brodo is a Bolognese holiday specialty, and its simplicity is incredible. When made correctly, the flavors are deep and delicious. It’s perfect during the winter in Bologna.

The tagliatelle was served with a Bolognese sauce. Learning to make Bolognese in Italy has completely changed my feeling on pasta with meat sauces. The flavors are so delicate and so rich. A good Bolognese sauce takes hours to simmer, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.  

Our pastas were served with Pignoletto, a sparkling white wine from Emilia Romagna. One of the reasons I love cooking classes is because it’s a great way to learn more about wine and food pairings, especially in regions that you might not know as much about! I would have never ordered a Pignoletto on my own because I’m not typically a sparkling white wine person, but this was perfect on a warm summer day!  

Journey of Doing - fresh pasta cooking class in Bologna
Journey of Doing - fresh pasta cooking class in Bologna
Journey of Doing - fresh pasta cooking class in Bologna

Take a Food Tour in Bologna

On our 4th trip to Bologna, we finally made the food tour happen! We had a lovely time with Mattia, who was an incredibly knowledgable guide on both the city and the food. We a variety of savory and sweet tastings, there really was something that everyone could enjoy on this walking tour of Bologna.

I love taking food tours because it pushes me to try things that I would not normally order. In this case, I tried a very tasty salumi made entirely of the left over fat from other salami cuts, as well as a few traditional Bolognese pastries that I wouldn’t have known to order. If you’re just starting your journey into enjoying Italian food or if you are traveling with picky eaters, this tour is on the “safe” side. We tried two traditional wines from Emilia Romagna as well.

Mattia went in depth about parts of the city, as well as about the production of food. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Parma or Modena, I think this food tour is a great way to get excited about visiting in the future. There were 8 of us on the tour, so it was easy to chat with other participants and ask Mattia questions.

Journey of Doing - Bologna food tour review
Journey of Doing - review of Bologna Food Tour
Journey of Doing - food tour of Bologna
Journey of Doing - try local food in Bologna

Book a Food Tour in Bologna.

Visit the Sanctuary of San Luca

One of the best ways to enjoy all the delicious food in Bologna is to take advantage of the miles of porticos in the city. One of the most scenic ways to do this is to make the trek up to San Luca. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are the porticos leading up to it. It is about 2.5 miles from Porta Saragozza to the sanctuary, and there are some stairs. The porticos will lead you through the hills of Bologna, and you’ll emerge in what feels like an entirely different place. The grounds of San Luca are very serene and relaxing with beautiful landscaping.

I recommend doing this early in the day, as it can get quite warm in the middle of the day. Further, the porticos can get crowded, as many people make the trip up here. If you don’t want to walk it, you can take the San Luca Express train from Piazza Maggiore.

If you decide to hike up to San Luca, remember that you are visiting a church and plan to dress accordingly. I tend to hike in knee-length tennis or golf skirts when in Italy and having a cardigan that I can easily slip on makes it very easy to visit churches without feeling disrespectful.

Journey of Doing - San Luca Bologna
Journey of Doing - San Luca Bologna

Visit the Markets of Bologna

Much of Bologna feels like an open air market to me. The first time we visited, we stumbled upon a fresh food market a couple blocks from the train station, and I had some tasty ascolane (fried, stuffed olives), focaccia, and an arancini. (I’m pretty sure that’s what inspired us to return to Bologna.)

Getting out early in the Quadrilatero, you’ll see stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, pasta, and more. The stalls line the small medieval streets and the city slowly wakes up with their daily shopping. The Mercado delle Erbe is a more traditional covered market (most similar to the Mercado Centrale or Sant’Ambrogio market in Florence) with local vendors selling everything from fresh pasta to horse meat. It has a few restaurants within it, and many great places to enjoy apertivo nearby.

On the weekends, the Piazzola market has tented stalls with everything from clothes to household products to luggage. It’s very similar to a flea market, so you never know what you might find!

Visit the Christmas Markets in Bologna

If your Bologna itinerary includes travel in November and December, there are Christmas markets spread throughout the old city center.  My favorite Christmas market in Bologna was the French market in Piazza Minghetti.  It offers a lot of fresh French products, including cheeses, pastries, and vin chaud. There are a lot French specialty products that make great gifts. When I purchased the home fragrance diffusers for friends, they got rave reviews.

The Fiera di Santa Lucia is a Christmas market housed beneath the porticos. It’s a much smaller market, but it has some beautiful ornaments, Christmas gifts and tasty souvenirs as well. It’s definitely a place to shop versus a place to mingle, simply because of the small size of it.

Depending on when you visit, there are additional markets and Christmas activities throughout the city. These two just happen to be some of my favorites!  

Journey of Doing - Christmas markets in Bologna

Visit the Basilica of Santo Stefano and the Seven Churches in Bologna

The Basilica of Santo Stefano and the 7 churches is so cool. When the hotel staff at 051 Deluxe mentioned it to us, we had no idea what they were talking about because it wasn’t in ANY of our guidebooks. We kept trying to make sense of what they meant, but we couldn’t find any information on it.  Eventually, while wandering the streets of Bologna, we stumbled upon the triangular piazza. At the end of the piazza are the seven churches in Bologna. The most recent church is still a living church and you can attend services in it, if that interests you. If not, you can visit the footprints and remains of the earlier churches. 

Like Piazza dei Signori in Verona, you can see the history and evolution of architecture in a single square. It’s beautiful and fascinating. Parts of it definitely reminded me of the Eurphrasian Basilica in Porec, too.  

Journey of Doing - what to see in Bologna
Journey of Doing - what to do in Bologna
Journey of Doing - what to do in Bologna
Journey of Doing - 7 churches of Bologna at night

Visit the Basilica of San Petronio

Located in one of the main piazzas of Bologna is the the Basilica of San Petronio. Its half-finished facade would be reminiscent of the Duomos in Florence and Siena, if it had been finished. It’s one of the largest churches in Italy. Also sharing this square is the fountain of Neptune and the museum housed in the Palazzo d’Accursio. I love the ambiance of Piazza Maggiore, and I find it to be a great place for people watching. Taking a walking tour of Bologna is a great way to learn more about this area and the city.

Journey of Doing - things to do in Bologna
Journey of Doing - things to do in Bologna
Journey of Doing - Porticos of Bologna

Where to Stay in Bologna

Bologna does not have a robust luxury hotel scene. Many of the large chains have hotels on the outskirts of the old city center, but being in the heart of Bologna is what is great. It’s s small, walkable city, and it’s incredibly lively. The ambiance truly adds to the experience, so I encourage you to stay within the old city.

051 Deluxe Rooms and Suites in Bologna

We have stayed at 051 Boutique at least 4 times. It is in the heart of the city center, in the shadow of the 2 towers. However, despite its very central location and the bustling area around it, the hotel is very quiet in the evenings. One of the best parts of 051 Suites is the staff. Our first stay was with my mom, and the entire team went above and beyond to ensure that my mom was well taken care of. When we went back to Bologna on our own, they remembered that we had traveled with her. And, when we returned a third time with my mom in tow, they were excited to see her. The personal and warm service are a reason why I haven’t felt the need to stay anywhere else in Bologna.

The rooms and suites are spread over several floors in an apartment building. (There is an elevator if you need it.) There is a central reception area that serves as both the dining and living room of the hotel. It’s where breakfast is served, and there is a refrigerator. It has an eclectic Alice in Wonderland vibe that exudes warmth, especially during the winter months.

On our first visit, we booked the Mandarin Suite, which was quite large with plenty of workspace and storage.  The beds are comfortable and the linens are cozy. Our suite had a small walk-in closet, which was nice. The shower was a bit on the small side, but the water pressure was great and we had no issues with hot water. We had a lovely rooftop view, so the room was very well lit. Since our room wasn’t on the same floor as reception, they had set up a small lounge area with cookies, chocolate, as well as coffee and tea.

On subsequent stays, we booked a standard double room. It was cozy (about 200 square feet), but completely functional. Italians are great about utilizing space effectively. The bathroom was a lot smaller, but again, the shower had great water pressure. The room overlooked an interior courtyard, so it wasn’t quite as bright as the suite we stayed in previously. I loved that the art in the room included photographs of Bologna from a local artist.

Just a note, it is entirely possible to walk to Bologna Centrale from this hotel. It’s fairly flat 20 minute walk, and it may be easier than finding a cab. When we couldn’t find a cab big enough for our group of 4 + our luggage, we split up and I walked it with my cousin. If you are visiting Bologna as part of a central Italy road trip (as we’ve done multiple times!), they also have parking available. They sent us turn-by-turn directions, which was very much appreciated. The parking lot used by 051 Hotel and Suites handles all the ZTL paperwork and makes it very easy.

The rooms at 051 B&B are modern, functional, and have a bit of quirky character to them. The finishes offer a bit of luxury at a reasonable price. What make this place truly special is the team. From restaurant recommendations to ensuring that we had access to early morning transportation to noticing when our group wasn’t doing great, the hotel staff noticed everything. Very few travel guides have a lot of information about what to see and do in Bologna, so the hotel staff has been instrumental in helping us find some hidden gems in Bologna. They truly went above and beyond to ensure our stays in Bologna have been memorable. The hospitality is truly unparalleled.               

Book 051 Hotel and Suites in Bologna

Journey of Doing - 051 Deluxe Rooms and Suites Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Bologna
Journey of Doing - 051 Deluxe Rooms and Suites Bologna
Journey of Doing - hotels in Bologna
Journey of Doing - 051 Suites Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Bologna

2 Towers Holiday Home – Apartment Rental in Bologna

In November 2023, we traveled to Bologna with my mom (again), and 051 Suites was sold out. We decided to rent an apartment in Bologna instead. After a lot of research, I settled on 2 Towers Holiday Home, which ironically, is about a block from 051 Suites. It’s a two bedroom, two bath apartment in the old city center with a full kitchen and living area. It was PERFECT for the three of us.

The apartment was modern and brightly decorated (with a Bologna theme) with plenty of windows that provided much appreciated fresh air and natural light. While we were staying in winter and the days were shorter, it was nice to have the extra light in the morning. I was a little worried about ambient light, but we were actually able to leave the windows open with the black out curtains and sleep well, too. When the windows were closed, it blocked out the street noise entirely.

I, a self proclaimed bed snob, found the beds and the linens to be comfortable. It wasn’t luxurious, but it was comfortable and not unlike the 051 Suites beds. I loved the bright colors and the murals on the walls. Our room had a desk in it, though I chose to take my zoom meetings in the living room. (The wifi worked great!!)

One of the bathrooms offered a jacuzzi bathtub and shower, and the other offered a small stand up shower. While I only used the shower, it had great water pressure and plenty of hot water. It offered all the amenities of a traditional hotel – nice towels, bath amenities, hair dryer, shower cap, etc.

The kitchen had everything you need and everything you wouldn’t expect an apartment in Bologna to have, like a microwave, a toaster, and a full size refrigerator. There were various coffee and tea makers, all the pots and pans you need to cook, and a dishwasher. This apartment offers ample storage everywhere, too.

2 Towers Holiday home is an incredible short or long term rental in Bologna. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from Bologna Centrale and right in the heart of the old city. There are tons of incredible restaurants within a 10 minute walk of the apartment, and you could shop the markets in Bologna as well. I feel certain we will be back

Book 2 Towers Apartment in Bologna

Journey of Doing - best apartment rental in Bologna
Journey of Doing - best apartment rental in Bologna
Journey of Doing - best apartment in Bologna
Journey of Doing - best apartment in Bologna
Journey of Doing - best apartment in Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to stay in Bologna
Journey of Doing - luxury apartment rental in Bologna
Journey of Doing - luxury apartment rental in Bologna
Journey of Doing - Bologna travel guide
Journey of Doing - Bologna travel guide

Where to Eat in Bologna

There are a lot of amazing restaurants in Bologna. The markets are great. And all the food tours and cooking classes we’ve taken are tasty. It’s definitely one of those places where I feel like I never have enough time to fully enjoy my meals. We haven’t spent nearly enough time curating a restaurant list in Bologna, but I can easily see it being at least as long as my list of favorite restaurants in Florence or my Cortona restaurant list.  In Bologna, I highly recommend utilizing your tour guides and hotel staff for restaurant recommendations and reservations. I would also check out this list from Coral at Curious Appetite. Reservations are super helpful and very necessary in Bologna. Below I’ve shared some of our favorite restaurants in Bologna, but we still have so many more places to visit.        

Journey of Doing - Bologna restaurants

Ristorante da Cesarina

Cesarina was recommended by our hotel, and we’ve enjoyed it multiple times on our trips to Bologna. One of the things that is most impressive about Cesarina is the wine list. It is extensive.

In some parts of Italy, I prefer the primi course to the secondis. In Bologna, however, I really love the secondis. If you want to try a little bit of everything, I recommend ordering the Tris alla Cesarina, which will include the lasagna, tortellini, and gramigna. Gramigna is a Bolognese speciality with sausage and tomato, and it’s one of my favorite pastas to order in Bologna. (I’ve never seen it anywhere else!) My mom really enjoyed the balsamic risotto as well. When we were there in November 2023l, they had a white truffle risotto that was absolutely delicious.

For secondi, I recommend the filetto al pepe verde (steak with a green pepper sauce). I first tried this dish in Venice, and I’ve been hooked on it ever since. I think Cesarina has one of the best versions of that I’ve tried! If you’re looking for another regional dish, the cotoletta alla Bolognese is delicious as well! It is a veal that is wrapped in Parma ham and covered with a cheese sauce. It’s rich and tasty!

You’ll want to make a reservation at Cesarina. Don’t be thrown off if it’s empty during the earlier time slots. The Italians eat later than we typically do, and the restaurant was full by the time we finished.

Journey of Doing - best Bologna restaurants
Journey of Doing - best Bologna restaurants

Il Passatello Di Bologna

This is another recommendation from the staff at 051 Deluxe. We had dinner at Il Passatello and they set the bar high for everyone else on that trip. The staff was so kind and welcoming! They were so proud and wanted to ensure that we had a lovely experience.

Like Cesarina, the secondi at Il Passatello are truly delicious. We started with an assortment of primi pastas, and true to form, the gramigna and lasagne were my favorites. For secondi, we ordered the veal scallopini with white wine sauce and the cotoletta alla Bolognese.  I loved the cotoletta.  We also ordered a side of roasted potatoes, and they were exceptional as well.

Overall, this was a lovely dining experience. It was easy and low stress, and the staff was so wonderful. I think the hospitality in Bologna is truly next level.

Journey of Doing - where to eat in Bologna
Journey of Doing - what to eat in Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to eat in Bologna

Trattoria Oberdan da Mario

Oberdan da Mario is the first restaurant we tried in Bologna. It was close to our hotel, and it was a great introduction to Bolognese cuisine.  We started with a affettato di salumi misti , which is a mix of local salumi and included mortadella, as well as carpaccio with parmesan. The carpaccio was tasty, but culatello is in a league of its own when you are visiting Emilia Romagna. I loved making small sandwiches of culatello and tigelle, which is a traditional Bolognese bread.

Our waiter introduced us to the concept of ordering our pastas “bis,” which allowed everyone to try a little bit of everything. We started with the gramigna con salsicca (I told you it’s my favorite!), the lasagna Bolognese, and the tortelloni with sage and butter. Tortelloni are the larger filled pastas, and the butter-sage sauce is a Tuscan specialty.  

The service at Obredan was great, and we enjoyed our outside table. It was a really lovely dinner, and I think it greatly contributed to our quick affinity for Bologna.      

Journey of Doing - where to eat in Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to eat in Bologna

Salumeria Simoni

If you’re looking for a less formal dining experience in Bologna, I strongly recommend grabbing a table at Simoni. This salumeria offers charcuterie platters along with sandwiches. It fills up quickly for apertivo, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. We loved the mixed platters because it allowed us to us to try a variety of different things. Simoni has a soft parmesan truffle cheese that is UNREAL. Last year, when we flew into Bologna to drive to Villa Cordevigo, I made Tom stop in the city center so we could try to buy some. I didn’t get the right thing, so you can bet we’ll be going back to try it again soon.

They also have a grocery store where you can pick things up to go. As a reminder, you can bring cheese home to the United States and they will vacuum seal it for you. The meat has to stay in Italy though.

Journey of Doing - Simoni Bologna
Journey of Doing - salumeria in Bologna
Journey of Doing - where to eat in Bologna

Signorvino Bologna

I have a love-hate relationship with Signorvino. On one hand, it has some great sales on some wines that we enjoy a lot. On the other hand, it reminds me of an Italian Total Wine and More, and I really love my local wine tasting experiences in Italy. However, Tom has been wanting to try the enoteca at Signorvino, and our first night in Bologna ended up being the perfect time for it. Located on Piazza Maggiore, Signorvino does offer the perfect ambiance with plenty of people watching, beautiful music in the background, and ambient lighting.

We ordered a mini tagliere with proscuitto crudo and focaccia, a board of culatello di Zibello & gnocco fritto (fried bread), and tagliere with formaggi. We had plenty of food. Everything tasted fresh. We ordered wines by the glass: Primitivo for me, Lugana for mom, and Nebbiolo for Tom. I think the Primitivo and Lugana were the best choices.

Overall, I think it’s probably worth a visit, but it wouldn’t be my top choice of restaurants in Bologna. If you are looking for a meal with a view, this fits the bill. If you’re looking for something filling but not heavy, this fits the bill for that as well. If you’re looking for something easy, this fits the bill. More than anything, it’s a safe and easy choice, particularly if you’re jet-lagged or don’t want to wait for the later restaurant seatings.

Journey of Doing - Signorvino Bologna review

Best Gelato in Bologna

Rounding out this post is my favorite way to end an evening in Italy: gelato! Personally, I love Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla, which sits in the shadow of the two towers in Bologna and is easy to get to.  If you’re willing to walk outside the center (and why not? Bologna is compact!), Cremeria Santo Stefano is great with unique flavors that change. In November, I had a Sicilian orange sorbetto that was very tasty.    

Journey of doing - best gelato in Bologna

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