Whether you’re in Italy for pleasure or business, there’s no doubt the country entices and enchants. Each of its regions is steeped in a rarefied atmosphere, brimful with history, sophistication, and delicious food. Each city carries with it a distinct personality, and Bologna is no exception.
If you’re on the lookout for top things to do in Bologna, here is a list of 10 suggestions that can give you some bragging rights upon your return home:
Try the original baloney – Mortadella di Bologna
If you’ve ever enjoyed baloney sandwiches as a child, or even just heard about them in popular TV shows and movies, you just might think it has something to do with Bologna, Italy. And you’re right!
Baloney is a distant cousin of the original Mortadella di Bologna. One of the Bologna, Italy points of interest you should not miss is enjoying the rarefied taste of the original.
Mortadella has been known since the Romans when it was called farcimen mirtatum and prepared with a mortar and pestle. Today, this dish is made up of finely ground pork, then mixed with high-quality fat, and spiced up with a blend of salt, white pepper, coriander, anise, pieces of pistachio and even wine.
Just like their other edible masterpieces, the Italians have very firm guidelines on what can and cannot be called Mortadella. It’s a far cry from your run-of-the-mill baloney and a genuine treat you should not miss.
Piazza Maggiore and the Fountain of Neptune
Of course, a piazza will always be an attraction brimming with history in any city. Piazza Maggiore does not disappoint – just one of the many Bologna, Italy, attractions, this piazza is the most important one of the entire Emilia-Romagna region.
First made in the 1200s, the piazza went through some changes until it reached its final configuration in the 16th century.
Stroll along the same pathways the Italians did in the 1500s, and you’ll quickly come across the Fountain of Neptune – possibly one of the more controversial public monuments.
Erected in the late 1500s, shortly after Bologna came under the influence of the Papal state, it was supposed to show Neptune ruled the seas, but it was the Pope who ruled the world. However, the Papal state did not look kindly on the sculptor’s initial design – they ordered for Neptune’s genitalia to be reduced.
The sculptor rebelled by enlarging Neptune’s thumb – even today, when you stand behind the statue at the right angle, it looks like Neptune’s erect phallus points to the statue of the Pope.
The Leaning Towers of Bologna
A surprise to many who know only of Pisa, the leaning towers here are a true Bologna must-see. The Asinelli and the Garisenda Towers are widely considered as the symbols of Bologna, and the ladder actually leans to a greater degree than the one in Pisa!
It’s believed they were constructed sometime between 1109 and 1119 and legend has it the construction turned into a feud between two families – each wanted to prove they could build the higher tower.
Today, only 20 out of the 180 Bologna towers survive. The two mentioned are only the most well known. You can even climb to the top of the Asinelli tower – the view is certainly worth it.
One entry on your what to see in Bologna list should be another one of Bologna’s famous towers – Torre Prendiparte. Constructed during the 12th century, this tower stands tall at just under 60 meters.
A stone’s throw away from the two leaning towers, Prendiparte is located on the piazza of the same name. Originally designed as an impenetrable barrier against the city’s enemies, it has since gone through a significant change – an almost complete restoration. You can visit each of the towers twelve levels – from the ground floor, through areas dedicated to prison cells, all the way up to the terrace.
What’s special about this one is that you can spend the night! The tower is currently a bed and breakfast, so if you want to not just see, but deeply experience Bologna’s history, you can enjoy this one of a kind experience.
Oratory of Battuti
Located inside the Santa Maria della Vita, the oratory is a true hidden gem. Constructed in 1604 and designed by Floriano Ambrosini, it features ethereal sculptures. Named the Death of the Virgin by Alfonso Lombardi, the fifteen nearly life-size statues represent the twelve Apostles gathered around the Virgin’s tomb. Among them is a Judean who’s trying to knock over the tomb, arousing outrage of the Apostles, but an angel hovers over and stops him.
Look up, and you’ll be greeted by a stunning image of the ascension of Madonna. In fact, all of the walls and vaults are decorated in the distinct Baroque style.
The oldest university in the world
Established in 1088, Bologna University is the oldest, continually operating university in the world. At its beginnings, the university operated more loosely. Doctors would hold lessons in their houses, or in rooms rented by the city council. Finally, in the 16th century, scholars got a dedicated building.
Its centerpiece is undoubtedly the Anatomical Theatre. The room is covered in lush wooden paneling, carved with statues of prominent medical practitioners. In the center, you’ll find an ornate anatomical table where, centuries ago, students watched dissections and even real surgeries.
Widely considered as the most beautiful in the world, the university is open for both citizens and tourists. Make sure to take a walk down the 500-year-old corridors – the sheer amount of artistic and architectural beauty might seem overwhelming, but just take your time and enjoy.
Basilica di San Petronio
Among the many things to do in Bologna, Italy, one is a visit to the 10th largest church in the world. Located on the Piazza Maggiore, this domineering church looks a bit odd.
Even though the construction lasted from 1388 to 1479, the building was never finished. Today, its front facade features colored marble stonework on the lower half, while the rest is bare with exposed brown, brickwork.
Once you step inside, you’ll find no shortage of important religious artwork. Just one of the important features of the church is Capella Bolognini. This chapel (one of the total 22), features staggering depictions of Heaven and Hell – inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, it was painted by Giovanni da Modena in 1410.
Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
This church is among the oldest in Bologna and remains one of the more popular Bologna tourist attractions. Created in 1194, but finished in 1765, the Sanctuary of Madonna is perched on the top of the Monte della Guardia. Of course, the building you’ll see today is not the same one from the 12th century. The church’s modern look dates back to 1757 when it was built by Dotti in the place of another older church. So, while the buildings may have changed, there has always been a church at the top of the hill to welcome both the citizens of Bologna and travelers.
Over 600 arches grace the portico which is the longest one in the world. Under its protection, the yearly procession proceeds to the cathedral in the city center. This procession represents the Byzantine Madonna and Child and has been happening since 1433.
Inside the church itself, you can find a number of detailed frescos that have survived centuries and even an icon of the Virgin Mary who was, as legend has it, painted by Luke the Evangelist.
La Piazzola di Bologna
If you’re a bargain hunter, one of the best things to do in Bologna is going to a good flea market. La Piazzola di Bologna is not just that, but a living historical monument.
Held in the Plazza Della 8 Agosto, this market has been taking place since 1251. In those days, it was primarily a cattle market. The only small blip in the market’s history is the early 19th century when the piazza was temporarily used as a military training ground.
While wondering the market today, you’ll find over 400 vendors selling both new and used clothing, footwear, handicrafts, yarns, a variety of household items, cosmetics, and much, much more.
The vivid imagery of true Italian life is not something to be missed! La Piazzola di Bologna operates only on Fridays and Saturday, so be sure to check it out.
Visit Italy’s food theme park
Since 2017, any gourmand who finds themselves in Italy has a unique opportunity to visit Fico Eataly Way – a genuine food theme park.
The park features cuisine of each of Italy’s regions – over 40 restaurants and food stalls can delight your senses with the delicacies from Aranciti to Zuppa.
Aside from restaurants, Fico also has its own farm, complete with livestock, fresh fruit, and vegetables. The pasta too is made in-house, along with churning their own dairy, and many more delicacies.
Once you step into the Fico world, the experience might quickly be overwhelming. Many a vendor does not speak English, and the sheer number of the choices before you might sour your visit. To prevent this from happening, you might want to opt for a guided tour. During the first part, you’ll be free to wander the aisles, while the rest of the time you’ll be guided through each of the region’s cuisine, dishes, and produce.
After immersing yourself in all the Bologna must-sees, you might find it stays forever in your heart! The city is one of the incomparable ones – to experience it the way Italians do, contact us! We can provide you with personal, luxury transport services with chauffeurs who can guide you to the most memorable experiences.