City Guide: Bologna, Italy's Most Underrated Destination

by - Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Let's get real. I can honestly say Bologna was not at the top of my list of places to visit in Italy. Rome has (unsurprisingly) always been my number one. But after my friends from uni suggested Bologna (mainly because of the pasta more than anything else), my eyes had been officially opened. It was a no brainer. Bologna is right in the middle of both Florence and Venice, two places also on my Italian bucketlist. So it made sense to kill three birds with one stone and give Bologna a visit. I was definitely not disappointed.

Though a very small city (which is pretty handy when it comes to sightseeing), I was surprised at the amount of things to do in Bologna. As soon as you enter the town walls, you're practically smacked in the face by the city's history; the orange brickwork and old architecture of all the buildings, the cobblestone streets, the abundance of beautiful archways - it's honestly unlike anything I've seen before, and I basically went to university at Hogwarts (Royal Holloway, check it out).


Like I said before, Bologna is pretty small, so you can pretty much reach everywhere by foot - as long as you are staying within the limits of the city walls. There are buses and taxis that you can pick up from practically anywhere but unless you're going somewhere a large distance away, you may as well just walk it. It's cost efficient and good exercise, so it's a win win!

Saying that, we ended up taking taxis to and from the airport. It cost us 18€ from the airport to our apartment and 21€ back. Seeing as the bus ticket from the airport is 6€ per person, it made sense for the 3 of us to hop in a taxi and save ourselves the trouble of wandering the streets clueless like the tourists that we are. 


The sightseeing in Bologna mainly consists of churches and museums. And there are lots. I'm pretty sure we went in about 90% of them... Like everything else in the city, these churches are old, so they're nothing like the one you might go to on a Sunday morning. Most have colourful frescos and marble statues adorning every wall - you can tell a lot of money went into decorating them. The best thing is that the majority of them are free to enter, with only some asking for a few €'s donation. The ones I'd say you definitely need to check out are Santo Stefano (which was basically like a tardis. In the back there's also a crypt and a courtyard to see), Santa Maria dei Servi and the Bologna Cathedral. The San Petronio Basilica, which sits in the main Piazza Maggiore square is obviously the most famous but it honestly wasn't my favourite. It is worth the visit however, seeing as the location is so central. Just make sure you're all covered up before you go. They don't allow any shorts or tank tops. You also (annoyingly) have to buy a pass to be allowed to take pictures. I'm cheap so I didn't. Boo.

Speaking of Piazza Maggiore, if you're visiting during the summer, be sure to check out what events might be happening. This summer, they're hosting a free outdoor cinema festival and of course because it's free, I had to go. We loved it so much we actually went twice. The first time we saw the silent film Steamboat Bill, Jr, which was accompanied by live music from Community Theatre Orchestra of Bologna. It was a pretty surreal experience, seeing as I haven't listened to many (if any) live orchestras before. The second we saw was a documentary about the late blues singer, Chet Baker called Let's Get Lost. The film's director, Bruce Weber was there to give an introduction to the film as well, which is pretty damn special if you ask me. 

Bologna is a city for history buffs, and if you fall under that category, the Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna (that's the Archaeological Museum to you and me) is a must see. You can easily spend hours looking at all the artefacts, which aren't only from Italy but also all around the world. My favourite was definitely the Egyptian section in the basement. Have you ever seen a mummified crocodile? No? I hadn't either! Also, it's free to enter on the first Sunday of every month, which was music to my ears seeing as we were there the first Sunday of July. This holiday literally couldn't have been planned better. A lot of other museums in the city offer this deal too, just check out their websites beforehand.

If there's one thing you have to do while in Bologna, it's climbing to the top of the Asinelli tower - but if you're planning a trip there, you probably already knew that. If you think the views from the ground are impressive, it's nothing compared to the sight you're faced with from up above. Definitely a massive reward after the sheer amount of stairs you have to climb to get to the top. Sadly, the tower was closed during our visit. But luckily, we randomly came across the bell tower attached to the Cathedral. It's obviously not as high as the Asinelli tower but it still offers panoramic views of Bologna. You also get access to a museum of the Cathedral's relics and their catacombs included in your entry ticket, so it might be more worth your money visiting the bell tower as opposed to the Asinelli tower. 


Now to my favourite part - FOOD. It goes without saying, Italian food is ah-maayyy-zingg. Any cuisine that flawlessly combines carbs, cheese and lots of red wine gets my vote. Pretty much anywhere you go, you're bound to find delicious food. However, we did come across some absolute gems during our time there.

This restaurant was recommended to me by a friend, and it definitely did not fail to impress. Although the bright green decor is a bit in-your-face, once you look past that and try the pizzas they have on offer, I'm sure you'll fall in love just like I did. It's easy to see why their restaurant gets booked up. The pizzas are cheap and the portions plentiful. I had to take some of my calzone home because as much as I wanted to, I could not finish it. Definitely worth the visit if you're looking for a cheap eat in the city.

This is another pizzeria, slightly more expensive than Spacca Napoli (probably because of it's more central location) but definitely worth every extra € spent. Again the portions are big - who knew Italians were so generous?? - and the wine is ridiculously cheap. You'll leave sufficiently tipsy and full to the brim. What's there not to love?

DeGusto serves up fresh pasta, cooked up right in front of you in their open kitchen. What I was surprised about during our visit was that most restaurants don't serves pasta as a main meal, so you can only order it as a 1st plate. This means that most of the portions aren't as big as us Brits might expect. But at DeGusto, pasta is the only thing on the menu. It's located in the infamous Middle Market, making it's location super ideal. You get the most for your money with the tortellini and tagliatelle dishes, but if you're anything like me, you'll split a few plates with friends so you can sample everything they have to offer. And since all the dishes are priced under 10€, you really can't go wrong.

We came across this gelateria randomly as it was on the same road as our accommodation. This place is seriously underrated. Go here if you want to try out some authentic gelato in flavours you won't find anywhere else. How about custard cream flavoured ice cream with some homemade cherry jam? Or maybe vanilla with orange flower, pistachios and almonds? I honestly want to go back to Bologna just for this place.

If you managed to read through this whole post, congrats! It was a long one. But hopefully I have opened your eyes to the magical place that is Bologna if, like me, you hadn't heard much about the city. 

That's all for now,

Natalie x

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