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The best Bologna guide: Things to do and where to eat

The best Bologna guide - things to do in Bologna

If you’re looking for a non-touristy Italian city, look no further than Bologna. In this guide, you’ll find the best things to do in Bologna, all the best Bologna restaurants (including what to eat in Bologna), details on accommodation in Bologna and so much more. This guide is full of hidden gems and has everything you need to guide you through Bologna slowly and authentically.

Wander around the streets of Bologna for a few days and you’ll quickly realize that the city is hidden gem. With narrow streets paints in hues of red, orange, and yellow, UNESCO-protected porticoes with intrinsically designed ceilings, and some of the best food in all of Italy, it is easy to fall in love with Bologna. In fact, Bologna may just be my favourite city in all of Italy. And I’m going to share with you some of the reasons why in this guide about the best Bologna things to do and eat.

Until recently, this university town was a quiet destination for foodies and travellers in search for a less touristy Italian getaway. And while Bologna has started to become a bit more popular in recent years, the quiet authenticity of the city remains.

During our time in Bologna, a guide told us that you can wander into virtually any restaurant and get a fairly priced, quality meal. And that speaks a lot to the spirit of Bologna. Here, you won’t find the tourist traps or manufactured experiences of nearby favourites like Florence or Venice. Here, local life exists even in the most central parts of the city. All you must do is wander the portico-lined streets and take it all in.

Bologna street
Bologna street

The Best Time to Visit Bologna

Many people flock to Italy during the summers, but you may be surprised to learn that July and August are not the best months of the year to visit Bologna. As a university town, many students leave the city in the summer and as the temperatures rise, locals head to the coast. And since the city isn’t as tourist-heavy as nearby Florence or Venice, many restaurants and local businesses will be close during August.

If you want to have nice weather and guarantee that all the restaurants on your wish list will be open, spring or autumn is the best time of year to visit Bologna. During this time of year temperatures be mild and you shouldn’t have to worry about over-crowding in the city streets.

The Best Accommodation in Bologna

Bologna is a fairly small, walkable city so staying anywhere central means that most places you will want to visit will only be a 10-20 minute walk away. Since we were in Bologna for a week, we opted for an apartment rental and the property was amazing.

Santa Caterina Apartment by Wonderful Italy is a spacious top-floor apartment located centrally in Bologna. It has two terraces – one west facing and the other east – with incredible views (see the the view the balcony in the photo below). It was a great place for us to work remotely from in Bologna for the week, and we really enjoyed the local neighbourhood.

Santa Caterina Apartment by Wonderful Italy - Bologna Accommodation

The Best Bologna Restaurants

Located in Emilia-Romagna, the food capital of Italy, you can probably imagine that there are endless places to eat in Bologna. And you’d be right.

I’ve easily had some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life in Bologna. But if you want to eat at many of these popular spots, I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan. Reservations are often required at least a few days in advance (or more for very popular spots), and some restaurants will only take reservations over the phone.

Here’s some of my favourite spots.

Lunch and Dinner Restaurants in Bologna

L’Emporio: This little deli is something special. Selling small batch cured meats and other locally-sourced products, I have been told by locals that this is the best place to get salami in the city. Grab a panini and a glass of wine or two, and sit on the streetside terrace and enjoy.

Da Cesari: If you’re looking for a very traditional trattoria, this is your spot. The food at Da Cesari is fantastic and offers a taste of classic local food. Phone reservation recommended.

Trattoria Bottega: In my opinion, this was the best Tagliatelle al Ragu I had in Bologna. It was a bit more expensive than many other spots we went to, but the quality is high. Phone reservation recommended.

Ahimè: This spot serves local food with an international twist and is a great place to go if you’re looking to try something a bit different. The owners of Ahimè work with small local growers and producers to create small plates with unique textures and flavours. The restaurant reminded us a lot of our food scene back in Copenhagen and Malmö, and is a great option if you’re in the region for a few days and want to try something a bit less traditional. Reservation recommended (reserve online).

Trattoria de Me: If you’ve read any other food blog, you’ll already know that this place is an institution in the city and their lasagna is some of the most famous in all of Italy. We didn’t get to try the lasagna because it is only served on Sunday, but this was easily the best meal we had in all of Bologna – and perhaps the best meal we’ve ever had in Italy. Reservations are a must (reserve online).

Mozzabella: Good pizza if you’re making a stop Mecato delle Erbe for a quick and affordable lunch.

I Matti della Polenta: Really cool hole-in-the-wall for a cheap but delicious lunch. This tiny spot serves fried and grilled polenta with fresh toppings like ragu or fresh cheese. The explained everything to us in so much detail, which really made the experience extra special.

Ahime Bologna
Da Cesari Bologna

Aperitivo in Bologna

Medulla Vini: Really funky natural wine selection in a hole-in-the-wall that you’d miss if you didn’t know it was there. Head inside to grab a glass and then sit outside under the portico with people watch.

Faccioli: An easy favourite for me for a glass of wine or apertivo. They have an amazing selection of unique wines from all over Italy as well as natural local wines.

Camera A Sud: This is a really popular local spot for cocktails, but they also have a really fun wine list. Located on a colourful corner in the heart of the trendy former Jewish ghetto neighbourhood, it’s the perfect spot for a night cap.

Saràvino: If you want to drink where the locals do, head to the piazza behind Mercato delle Erbe to Saràvino for an apertivo. They have a great selection of natural wines, and enjoy the local ambiance of the market area.

Fermento: A bit outside of the center in a gentrifying local neighbourhood. They had a great outdoor patio space and a really fun natural bottle list. And their focaccia makes for the perfect apertivo.

Camera a Sud Bologna
Mercato delle Erbe aperitivo

The Best Gelato in Bologna

I have never had better gelato than the gelato I ate in Bologna. There’s something about the eggs used in the crema gelato that blew me away. Here’s a few of my favourite spots:

  • Cremeria Mascarella
  • Cremeria La Vecchia Stalla
  • La Sorbetteria
  • Cremaria Cavour
Best gelato in Bologna
Best gelato in Bologna

What to Eat in Bologna

There’s so many local dishes that you must try, but here’s the top things you must eat in Bologna:

  • Tagliatelle al Ragu
  • Tortellloni (larger) and Tortellini (smaller)
  • Aceto Balsamico
  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Cured meats: Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella
  • Tigelle
  • Lasagna

The Best Bologna Things to Do

Spend a morning wandering the Quadrilatero

The busy narrow streets of the Quadrilatero market are arguably the best place to experience local life in Bologna. As the most central city market, you’d probably expect it to be filled with tourist-orientated gimmicks, but it’s quite the opposite. On weekday mornings, the streets are bustling with city locals shopping from local vendors for produce, fish, meat, and other local groceries. You’ll hear the shouts of fisherman selling their catch-of-the-day, and will be overwhelmed by the smell of yeast from bakeries making fresh bread.

For a truly local experience, head to the Quadrilatero vendors to shop for fresh pastries, local products like aceto balsamico, and even fresh pasta.

Take a Bologna food tour to learn about city's food culture

What’s the best thing to do in the food capital of Italy? Learn all about why the region has earned this accreditation by taking a Bologna food tour with a local. Delicious Bologna is one of the original Bologna food tours and is owned by a local to the Emilia-Romagna region named Mattia.

After growing up close by to the city, Mattia knew he couldn’t imagine himself living anywhere else in the world and his passion for sharing the local Bologna food culture is clear. On this tour, we visited small vendors and learned all about how the products are made, what to look for when sourcing local products, and tasted all the must-try products of the region.

Along the way, we also learned a lot about the history of Bologna and heard about stories of the city. It truly felt like we spent a few hours with a local friend in Bologna. So, if you only have a short time in the city, this is a perfect way to get all the highlights.

Pasta making food tour in Bologna

Explore nearly 40 kilometres of porticoes across the city

If you’ve ever seen photos of Bologna, you’ve probably noticed the porticoes that line the narrow streets. These covered walkways were built in the Middle Ages to accommodate the quickly growing university city as it allowed architects to design and build outwards by narrowing the streets while maintaining space for inhabitants to walk.

The result of this is nearly 40 kilometres of porticoes across the city, something that is truly hard to imagine the scope of unless you pay a visit to the city. Porticoes serve as covered walkways to escape the rain and sun, art installations, and even patios to share a coffee or drink with friends.

The longest and most famous portico in Bologna is 3.8 kilometres long and leads up to the iconic Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike up to the top of the city and be rewarded with beautiful views over Bologna.

Bologna porticoes
Bologna porticoes

Grab a drink with locals in the Ghetto Ebraico

A historic Jewish ghetto, this neighbourhood of Ghetto Ebraico dates back to the 16th century and today exists as one trendiest neighburhoods in Bologna. The winding streets are filled with creative street art and cool bars and cafes. It’s a great place to grab a drink along side Bologna’s coolest locals and people watch.

I particularly loved Camera A Sud for a spritz or glass of natural wine, but there are tons of spots along Piazzetta Marco Biagi to stop in at.

Ghetto Ebraico - Jewish ghetto in Bologna
Camera A Sud bar in the Jewish ghetto in Bologna

Have a drink at the oldest Osteria in Bologna

Named the oldest Osteria in Bologna, Osteria del Sole is an institution in the city. Dating back to the 15th century, this establishment has maintained the traditional format of an osteria serving drinks only – no water, and no food.

Similar to a when it first opened over half a century ago, you can bring your own food in to enjoy. It’s absolutely worth stopping in for a drink and for the cultural experience.

Explore the hidden canals of Bologna

What Italian city do you think of when you think of canals? I’d imagine that it’s probably not Bologna. However, there are hidden canals tucked away in the city center.

The most famous spot to view the canals is a tiny window on Via Piella, where visitors line up to peak through the and snap a photo of the colourful buildings that line the canal. But I actually preferred the quiet vantage point from Via Malcontenti.

Bologna canals
Vesterålen fishing village

Discover the 22 towers of Bologna

When you think of Italian cities, you probably don’t think of skyscrapers do you? I was so surprised to learn while on a guided tour that during the 12th and 13th century, Bologna was a city of towers scaling as high as 97 metres tall. Over the years many of these towers have been either demolished or have collapsed, but today there still remains a few scattered throughout the city.

Today, 22 towers remain with arguably the most famous being the “Two Towers”: Garisenda Tower and Asinelli Tower. Both of these towers have a characteristic lean and you can even climb the 498 steps up to the top of Asinelli Tower for beautiful views over Bologna.

While walking around, keep an eye out for the towers (and remnants of towers) around the city. They pop up quite often.

Visit Europe’s oldest continuously-running university

Bologna is home to Europe’s oldest continuously-running university found in 1088. To this day, Bologna remains a very university-centric town with students moving there to study from all over Italy and the world.

For nearly a century, some of the world’s most prominent people have walked the halls of the school. And it is because of this institution that Bologna has blossomed into the special city it is today. In fact, it is suggested that Bologna would not be the food capital of Italy without the university, as many of the most notable dishes of the region were specially curated to welcome the world’s most elite over the years.

While in Bologna, a visit to the campus grounds, or even better, a tour of the university is a must.

Stroll around Bologna’s covered market: Mercato delle Erbe

Designed in 1910, Mercato delle Erbe features typical food stalls selling produce, fish, meats, and other local products. Here, locals head to do their usual shopping or stop by one of the many restaurants to have a meal with friends.

After you roam around inside, head out to the piazza behind the market where the street is lined with local watering holes. Senza Nome is a really popular spot for locals to grab a drink or apertivo, but I particularly loved Saràvino for their wine selection.

Mercato delle Erbe Bologna

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Sunset in Bologna
Sunset in Bologna