What to See in Bologna in Two Days
Miles of Porticos, Hidden canals
& the freshest pasta
A Two Day Travel Itinerary for Bologna, Italy
After visiting Bologna, Italy this summer, I left thinking it is a city I could definitely live in. There are so many things about Bologna that made me feel like I belonged there. It is an extremely walkable city with beautiful sites, ample shopping, outdoor markets, and rich history …. best experienced through its food! The food is absolutely incredible and affordable compared to other popular destinations in Italy. It is also home to the oldest university in the world, so the streets are bustling with people of all ages, giving it a unique city culture. One of my favorite parts were the endless stretches of Porticos (porticos are arches that cover all of the sidewalks) that shade you from the hot sun and create endless beautiful archways as far as the eye can see. Bologna even has the longest portico walk in the world! (More on that below.)
In this post, I share what to see in Bologna in two days. My husband , Daniel, and I stayed for three nights and took a day trip to Modena. Below I include what to see, where to stay and some insider tips that I wish I knew before visiting Bologna. Get ready for the best pasta of your life.
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Here’s an overview of our three week itinerary for Italy if you’re planning your own trip!
Day 1-3: The Dolomites: Three Days in the Italian Alps
Day 4-5: Two Days in Bologna, Italy (this post!)
Day 6: A Day Trip to Modena
Day 7-14: Tuscany (blog posts coming soon)
Day 14-21: The Amalfi Coast (blog posts coming soon)
Two Day Itinerary: What to See
Day One: Take a Walking Tour of Bologna
+Grab a quick breakfast at your accommodation or check out one of Bologna’s best coffee shops.
+Start your walk at Piazza Maggiore. Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna and is one of the largest and oldest squares in all of Italy. Surrounding it are beautiful, historic buildings and Fountain of Neptune. In the summer, there are free movie showings. It’s a great way to spend your evening!
+Visit the Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio. The University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world! The Anatomical Theatre is an old medical school classroom with a large marble table in the middle. During the 1600s, professors would operate on patients in the theater for students and traveling physicians to observe. You can make a quick 30 minute visit of the Theatre, but it’s worth it to sit on the same benches that aspiring medical students of the time. It costs about 4 euros to enter.
+Did you know Bologna has hidden canals? Now is your chance to find them. There was a robust canal system built in the 12th century to transport both goods and people. It was eventually covered up but you can still spot them at Finestrella di Via Piella (click that link for the google maps location). At this spot, there is a fence on one side where you can peer in and see an open canal. The best view, however, is across the street in a hidden window. If it’s closed, just unlatch and push :).
+By this point, you’re probably ready for an aperitivo, or Italy’s version of a happy hour drink. There are bars all over Bologna, so pick a spot in the area and sit down to order an Aperol spritz. At almost every bar in Italy, you’ll be served snacks with your drink and in Bologna, you can expect mortadella. On our first day, we had an incredible Aperol spritz at Gran Bar, located at Via D'Azeglio, 7, 40123 Bologna, Italy.
+For dinner, head over to Osteria Broccaindosso for traditional Bolognese cuisine. You most likely won’t find this spot on the top of the restaurant lists on travel sites for Bologna, and that made me love it even more. It felt like a local gem and we didn’t even need a reservation. We ordered a bottle of delicious house wine for 10 euros and tried their three pasta special which was only 15 euros per person. I highly recommend the gramigna, tagliatelle and tortellini in broth.
Day Two: Make Pasta with an Italian Grandma & Find the Best Views of Bologna
+Get an early morning start today, you’ll have somewhere to be by 9AM. We ventured out around 7:30AM and stopped at a local market to pick up fruit for breakfast. The best market we found in Bologna was Mercato della Erbe (translates to herb market) where there are local farmers selling fresh produce. There is also a meat and cheese shop right at the entrance with incredibly delicious meat. I recommend picking up the local specialty in bologna, mortadella.
+Time for the main event of the day - a pasta cooking class with a real Italian grandma. We booked through Airbnb Experiences, which are local activities that are offered in cities all over the world. In Bologna, we found an incredible experience called Cook Pasta with Grandma.
The experience starts at 9AM and a family picks you up at right near the main train station in Bologna. After about a 30 minute drive into the countryside, you’ll be welcomed into a gorgeous home where Nonna, your host, will be starting a pot of fresh ragu (aka pasta sauce, but don’t call it that in front of her). The experience is about 5 hours long, and involves a hands-on pasta making experience. Nonna only speaks Italian, but her co-hosts/neighbors are young men that translate to English.
I won’t give too much away, because you have to experience this yourself, but this was one of the coolest experiences we had in all of Italy. It was so special to be able to experience cooking in a family home with locals, and learn the true way to make pasta in bologna.
+After eating yourself into a coma and thanking the family and host for the wonderful day, it’s time to head back to the city. Although the pasta class lasts for about 5 hours, you can expect to be back in Bologna by mid-afternoon, with enough time to fit in more exploring. We decided this was the perfect time to walk the Portico di San Luca, which is the longest portico walk in the world. The walk has 666 individual porticos and while most guides tell you to start at Piazza Maggiore, I recommend getting dropped off at the Arco Del Meloncello and walk up from there.
When you arrive, you’ll walk up 100s of steps, all covered in porticos, that lead you to your final destination, the Sanctuary Madonna di San Luca. The Sanctuary Madonna di San Luca is church that was built during the 1600/1700s and sits at the very top of the walk. Entrance to the church is free, but for just ~5 euros, you can climb up a tiny spiral staircase (not recommended if you get claustrophobic) where you’ll find the best view in all Bologna.
+From here, we walked all the way back to Piazza Maggiore but there is also a bus you can take. Click here to find out more information about public transportation in Bologna. I recommend walking around and finding another spot for an aperitivo. Here’s a list of some of the best aperitivo spots in Bologna. We ended up making dinner at our Airbnb since we ate SO much pasta for lunch. There are some awesome blog posts about what to eat in Bologna, like this Bologna Food Guide. I don’t think I could write a better one myself :).
Where to Stay
Bologna is a fairly small city, so you can’t really go wrong with the particular area you choose to stay in. We chose to stay right off of Piazza Maggiore and I’m so glad we did. It was a super accessible area, and our Airbnb was clean, comfortable and had all of the amenities we needed. Here is the Airbnb that we stayed in. If you’re interested in an Airbnb yourself, here is a list of 15 Airbnbs that I’ve hand-picked for you to check out!
TBP Insider Tips
>I know so many people that visit Italy and only go to Rome, Venice or Florence. Bologna is an incredibly underrated city, and you only need a couple of days to fall in love with it. Get yourself out of those crowded tourist cities and visit Bologna!
>Getting to Bologna is super easy by train from almost any city in Italy. We took a train straight from Bolzano in the Dolomites, where we spent our first few days hiking in the Italian Alps. The train ride from Venice is less than two hours and from Florence, it’s less than an hour.
>The two day itinerary above leaves out some of the main tourist attractions in Bologna. I decided I didn’t want to spend too much time waiting in lines, so picked attractions that were less crowded and more aligned to my tastes. If you want to check out the main tourist attractions in Bologna, here’s a list.
Visit all of the churches (no shortage of churches in Bologna)
Climb up Bologna’s leaning towers (the lines to do this were very, very long)
Visit the Museo Civico Archeologico
>I’ve written this tip in all my posts, but don’t forget that you’ll need euros in Italy. You can bring cash and exchange money at the airport or get a no-fee debit card like the one I have from Fidelity. It’s super easy and free to get, and will allow you to take out money from international ATMs with no fees. You just load it up in advance.
>Bologna weather was pretty consistent while we were there. We went in June, so it was very hot and easy to pack for, but it was also very humid. Pack light, breathable clothing and comfortable shoes for walking around in.