Bologna is hands down the culinary capital of Italy but there is so much more to this beautiful city than just the delicious food. I’ve been visting Bologna since 2006 when I met my now husband, who is from Bologna, so I’ve visited at least 40 times over the years. We even got married in Bologna – it’s a city close to my heart and one I’d even call ‘home’.
I’m not going to lie – I’d not even heard of Bologna, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region, until I met my husband and it’s only over the last few years that the city has become a popular destination for travellers (perhaps Eat, Pray, Love has something to do with that!). It’s even recently been featured on Rick Stein’s Long Weekends on BBC.
It’s the perfect weekend break from London as the flight is less than two hours but it’s also the perfect base for a longer holiday because of its connections. Florence is a mere 40 minutes on a train from Bologna, Modena is about a 30 minute drive and Tuscany is close too. If Venice is too expensive for you to stay in, base yourself in Bologna and do a day trip to Venice – it’s just over an hour by train. Rome is about a 90 minute train ride away so can be done as a day trip too (although you’d probably want to spend longer in Rome). And if you fancy driving, here’s an awesome Italy road trip planner.
The two towers are the symbol of Bologna and stand (lean) proudly in the centre of the city. Bologna has many medieval buildings and the towers date back to the 10th century. Asinelli is the tallest tower at 97 metres tall and you can climb the 1,000 steps to get an amazing view over the city.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, walk 10 minutes down the road to Mercato delle Erbe, which is a market that’s been open since 1910. As well as stalls selling vegetables, meat, fish, flowers etc there are also three areas with restaurants.
We enjoyed lunch recently in the market at Polpette e Crescentine and it was delicious! We ordered traditional Bolognese food – salumi and crescentine to start (crescentine are like fried pillows of dough…soooo yummy!).
This was followed by tortellini with parmesan cream and tagliatelle with ragu. Ragu (or Bolognese) should always be served with tagliatelle – never spaghetti! I also highly recommend tortellini with ragu and panna or even in brodo (chicken broth).
After lunch, go exploring. Piazza Maggiore is the central square in Bologna and has many medieval buildings, a Basilica and also a fountain with a statue of Neptune. Be sure to also explore the little side streets off the square, where you’ll find traditional shops, little markets, restaurants and bars.
Whilst we were in Bologna, there was a food and drink market in Palazzo Di Re Enzo which is in the main square and was built between 1244-46. It’s only ever open to the public during events or exhibitions so it was such a treat to be able to go inside.
Another gorgeous Piazza, not too far from Piazza Maggiore is Piazza Santo Stefano. When we last visited a couple of weeks ago there was a vintage and antiques market in the square. Definitely try nearby restaurant Pappagallo – stylish but serving traditional Bolognese food.
Bologna is a university town and actually has the oldest university in Europe. The university area has a great vibe as well as beautiful old buildings. Bologna is also famous for its arches, which you can find all over the city so always remember to look up!
Did you know that Bologna has a canal in the middle of the city? It does but it’s pretty hidden… see if you can spot Canale di Reno through the little window in the wall!
So if Bologna was not on your list of must-see travel destinations, I hope it is now!