When it comes to planning a trip to Italy, most people immediately think of the big 3: Rome, Venice, & Florence. Next on the list might be Milan, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Pisa or the Amalfi Coast. While these are all great places to visit, if you are a foodie like me, the one city that should be at the top of your list is Bologna. Over the years, Bologna hasn’t gotten much notice even though it is the birthplace of some of the most well known Italian dishes like tortellini, lasagna, and of course bolognese. It’s also a short train ride away from Parma and Modena which are homes to parmigiano reggiano, parma ham, and balsamic vinegar. Besides the awesome food, Bologna also has a great college town feel and awesome architecture. All without the crowds of tourists that invade other major Italian cities (although that’s starting to change) which enables you to mingle a bit more with the locals and get a more authentic and comparably cheaper experience!
If you only have 24 hours to spend in Bologna, like I did on my last trip to Italy, don’t worry you can still see quite a bit! Here are my top 5:
- Take a Class at the Gelato Museum – The Gelato Museum is actually the whole reason I started looking into Bologna in the first place. I mean a whole museum dedicated to Italy’s best sweet treat? It’s definitely a must! While the museum isn’t in downtown Bologna, it is a fairly simple 40 minute bus ride to the suburbs (be sure to buy 2 bus tickets in Bologna before you leave since the closest Tabacchi is a mile from the museum). You need to book a tour to visit the museum and there are a few options to choose from ranging from just the tour for 5 euro to gelato making classes or in depth tastings which cost between 20 and 45 euros. I took a class on making sorbetto and I’d highly recommend it!
- Try Bologna’s Most Famous Dishes at Trattoria dal Biassanot – If you only have one night in Bologna, you may be concerned that you won’t be able to try the big three in Bolognese cooking: Lasagna, Tortellini in Brodo, & Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Luckily, Trattoria dal Biassanot has you covered with their pasta tasting menu which includes all 3! They also have a pretty great meat plate including mortadella another specialty in Bologna which makes a great starter! Be sure to round out your meal with a glass of lambrusco, a local sparkling red wine.
- Market Tour – As you all know I’m a huge fan of walking tours and food, so combining the two is always a winner in my book. Our Market Tour was through Culinary Factory Tours and included visiting two markets while learning about Italian food & culture and a picnic lunch at Osteria del Sole, the oldest bar in Bologna. Since the tour groups are small, ours was just the two of us, it’s a great way to really interact like a local and feel connected to the city.
- Experience Piazza Maggiore at Night – While during the day Piazza Maggiore, the main square in Bologna, has a lot of historic charm, at night is when it really comes alive. Since this is a college town, when I went in September it was full of young people, hanging out with friends, listening to live music, and enjoying some wine. Pair that with a backdrop of 15th century buildings lit up for the night and you have an unforgettable experience!
- Take Time to Explore & Grab a Coffee – I absolutely love the architecture in Bologna, especially the arcades which make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 15th century. There are tons of hidden treasures to find, one of my favorites being Bologna’s hidden canal. If you need a break from walking be sure to stop in to get a coffee at my favorite cafe, Bar Mercato, where you can enjoy the owners portraits of the regulars while sipping a delicious coffee drink (I highly recommend the marocchino) which will come out with a shot of water so you can cleanse your pallet first (a tradition that seems to be unique to Bologna)!
If you have more than 24 hours to spend in Bologna, here are the 5 things I’m looking forward to doing on my next trip!
- Take a Food Tour of Parma & Modena to see how parmigiano reggiano, parma ham, and balsamic vinegar are made.
- Take the Master Gelato Class at the Gelato Museum.
- Walk up the 666 archway arcade to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
- Buy a Bologna Card and take advantage of the 2 hour walking tour and free entrance to museums to learn a bit more about Bologna’s rich history.
- Take a cooking class and learn to make fresh pasta from the experts!
Did our favorite things to see, do, & eat in Bologna make it onto your list? If not be sure to let us know so we can add them to our next itinerary!