Bologna, Italy City Guide

by Stephanie

Today’s Bologna City Guide comes from artist and blogger Paige Anderson. Paige and her husband called Bologna home during his graduate studies (their move was featured on the HGTV show House Hunters International), and today Paige shares some of the city’s many undiscovered wonders, beautiful architecture and delicious eats. Thanks, Paige, for this wonderful look into this gorgeous Italian city! — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

In the shadow between Florence, Milan and Venice, you’ll find the red-bricked medieval city of Bologna. It began as an Etruscan settlement turned Roman colony, but really got its start in 1088 with the founding of the University of Bologna. Today the university still plays an active part in the city — one-fifth of the population is students — earning the city the nickname la dotta or the learned.

Also one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, the fashion and shopping are top-notch. Sure to keep your shoes in good condition, Bologna boasts over 25 miles of wide covered sidewalks or portici. While Bologna’s citizens pride themselves on being well educated and well dressed, above all they pride themselves on being well fed.

Considered the stomach of Italy, Bologna — la grassa (the fat) — is the culinary capitol of the country. Italian classics like tagliatelle Bolognese, tortellini and tortelloni, mortadella, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and parmagiano-reggiano all originated in the Bologna region. I never knew food could be taken so seriously (or taste so good!).

Bathed in ochers, russets and earthy rust-oranges, the city has a third, and final nickname, la rosso or the red. It’s like looking through a warm filter all day long.

It’s an easy city to navigate. Everything in the center is just a short walk, but I’ve included this Google Map in case you lose your way (though sometimes that’s the best way to discover a city!).



Piazza Maggiore: A city with one of the most well-preserved medieval centers in Europe, the heart of Bologna is at Piazza Maggiore. The piazza is flanked by several palaces and the main cathedral. It is an excellent place to people watch and soak up some Italian sun.

Neptune’s Fountain: This fountain is one of the symbols of the city sculpted by Giambologna in the 14th century. The fountain has been disassembled and reassembled several times for cleaning (and for protection during WWII). Piazza Nettuno

Salaborsa: Originally built as a fortress, the building got its name for housing Bologna’s Stock Exchange in the 17th century. It’s now a city center and public library (with a nice cafe inside). The library is built on top of Etruscan ruins. You can see parts of the ruins through the glass floor in the main hall, or by going down a floor and taking a free tour. Piazza Nettuno, 3 | tel +39 051 2194400

Santa Maria Della Vita: You can see this church’s patinaed dome cresting over the palace opposite Palazzo d’Accursio. Possibly one of my favorite churches in the city, it is small, circular and intimate, and it has Niccolò dell’Arca’s famous terracotta figures titled, “Lamentation over the Dead Christ” on display. Dell’Arca studied patients at the nearby hospital to sculpt such dramatic figures. After they were completed and on display, donations to the church (for the sculptures) were used to fund the hospital for many years. This tucked-away church is definitely worth a visit after wandering through Mercato di Mezzo or a quick stop at Piazza Maggiore. Via Clavature, 10

Archiginassio: To win the hearts of the Bolognesi, the papacy donated a large building and library to the University of Bologna. This was the first official seat of the university (prior, the classes met in professors’ homes or under the porticoes). The building is home to the famed Anatomical Theater. Because medical school was a specialty at the university but dissection wasn’t sanctioned by the Catholic Church, this building, with a room set aside specifically for dissection, quickly became the pride of the city. Dignitaries brought to Bologna didn’t attend plays or operas; they were sat down to watch a dissection performed. The theater is made entirely of spruce wood, and muscular skeletons adorn the wall and hold up the canopy over the lecturer’s chair. Piazza Galvani, 1


Mercato di Mezzo: If you want to see absolutely beautiful food, wander through the tight streets that make up Bologna’s Mercato di Mezzo. This centuries-old market is home to some of the highest quality food in the city. With bakeries like Paolo Atti e Figli, gastronomical stores like Ditta A. F. Tamburini (also a great lunch spot!), cheese and meat from La Baita or Simoni, it’s a culinary experience unlike any other. Via Peschiere Vecchie and surrounding streets

La Vecchia Malga: Hungry while looking at all that food? Stop in here. Via Pescherie Vecchie 3a | tel. 051 223 940



Basilica of Santo Stefano: The church is actually a complex of seven churches built hundreds of years apart but all connected with cloisters or other edifices. The oldest church, the Church of the Sepulcher (where the body of the patron saint of Bologna, San Petronius, laid before being moved to the Basilica, later built in his honor in the Piazza Maggiore), was originally built in the 5th century. In it, there is a column of black, African marble (supposedly left over from the temple of Isis that the church was built over) that gives you 200 years of indulgences every time you visit! Another church once claimed to have the remains of Peter after inscriptions were uncovered there. To prevent drawing pilgrims paying honor to Peter in Rome, the Pope ordered the church to be filled with dirt and buried until it was re-dedicated to another saint. Also, the monks here make the most delightful soap and honey! Via S. Stefano, 24 | tel +39 051 223256


Casa Isolani: This is one of the oldest residences in Bologna. Inside, Corte Isolani has been restored and turned into a quaint shopping and dining center. Strada Maggiore, 19

Via Altabella: If you want to visit not just a toy store, but a toy storeHoffmann is the place. The window displays are more like installations and will make you want to be a kid again (or spoil one of your own). This street also has a host of boutiques, and if you’re feeling like truly splurging on a little one, Armani Junior is just around the corner. Via Altabella 23/Via Oberdan

Strada Maggiore: One of the oldest streets in town and leading to the heart of the city-center at the base of the famed Due Torri, Strada Maggiore is home to countless curated antique shops, beautiful furniture store La Tantazioni, and a quirky Bologna-based design store, Fabrica Features.


Ricomincio da Tre: Named after one of Massimo Troisi’s famous films, this trattoria/pizzaria is fresh and delicious. For an appetizer, I suggest a’bufalotta, a fresh ball of incredible Bufala mozzarella served with green olives and basil. Via de’ Giudei, 4/A | tel +39 051 230885

Il Caffé della Sette Chiesa: You’d be hard pressed to find a more charming cafe. It’s a newer joint but darling and in a great center-of-everything location. Perfect for a quick rest-up before hitting the town. Via Santo Stefano

Ristorante Papagallo: One of the more famous places to eat, Papagallo is a high-end restaurant located practically at the feet of the iconic Due Torri. The medieval-looking metal sign with a parrot is all there is to tip you off on the entrance. Piazza della Mercanzia 3 | tel + 39 051 232 807

La Sorbetteria: This gelateria has won numerous awards and boasts that it is the best in Bologna (which is code for “best in all the world”). It may very well be true. It’s tucked into one of my favorite streets, just steps away from the medieval inner-tower, which marks where the oldest interior wall used to stand. Via Castiglione, 44 | tel +39 051 233 257



Via D’Azelgio: This street, which stems directly from Piazza Maggiore, is home to numerous boutiques and profumerie. It’s also the street where famed singer and Bologna native Lucio Dalla had his apartment before passing away while on tour earlier this year. Even into the summer months, a shrine to his memory could be found on the street near where he lived. Now, each evening street performers up and down D’Azeglio play Lucio’s music to honor his memory.

Via Farini: In the mood for luxury window shopping? High-end retailers — Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Folli Follie, Falconeri, Hérmes, Fabi, Furla, Kangra — are clustered down this portico-lined street, as well as some beautiful smaller shops, a host of caffés and two of my favorite cartolerias: Cartoleria Francesco and Cartoleria Al Balazone.


Giardini Margharita: Though it’s just outside the city walls, a trip to this gorgeous park is well worth the short walk from the city center. Even better, rent bikes and ride around! It’s at the base of the foothills of the Apennines mountain range and even has a few Etruscan sarcophagi scattered throughout the space. A darling cafe, Garden Bo, is also a great place to stop, rest up and enjoy some time outside in the shade. Viale Meliconi 1 | tel +39 051 991 3789


Majiani: This cioccolateria is over 200 years old and the finest in Bologna. They collaborated with Fiat on a number of chocolates (so if you can’t afford the real thing, a chocolate Fiat 500 might just hit the spot) and also have an assortment of chocolate tortellinis, which are as adorable as they are delicious. Women in pressed white aprons assemble your order from behind dark wood counters. Oh, and get a few squares of cremino — you’ll thank me later. Via de’ Carbonesi, 5

Funivia: Hands down one of the best gelaterias in the city. Women in white aprons take your order. I recommend asking to get the bottom of the cone filled with chocolate and then eating your treat in Piazza Cavour, just across the street.

Caffé Zanarini: Located in a quieter piazza and just steps away from the luxury retailers, this upscale bar has lots of outdoor seating under starched umbrellas and carries an assortment of paninis, coffees, pastries and other goods. A word to the wise: If you don’t want to be spotted as an instant tourist, don’t order a cappuccino (or cappuccio if you want to use the local slang) after 11. Piazza Galvani, 1 | tel +39 051 2750041



Gallery Otto: The Saragozza neighborhood has a vibrant contemporary art scene. Gallery Otto is a cozy, well-curated gallery in the heart of Saragozza. Via Massimo D’Azeglio, 55 | tel +39 051 644 9845

Galleria Marabini: This gallery is in such a beautiful space that even if you’re not crazy about contemporary art, the architecture may draw you in. Vicolo della Neve 5 | tel +39 051 644 7482

Spanish College: The Spanish College is very exclusive and hard to get a tour of, but even walking around the outside gives you a feel for what the old University of Bologna was like in the Medieval days. In the early days of the university, each country had its own college where students were sent to live and study at the University of Bologna. The soil the Spanish College is on is actually owned (still!) by Spain, and only Spanish students are admitted to the college. If you’re lucky, a door might be propped open, and you can sneak a peak inside the gorgeous courtyard.

Basilica di San Luca: Beginning just outside Porta Saragozza, a trail of 666 porticoes leads up the hillside and ends at the Church of San Luca. Each May, the sanctuary of San Luca is brought down the hill, through the winding porticoes to the city where pilgrims wishing to pay honor to the sanctuary may come. Not only is this a good walk to maybe burn off some of the excellent Bolognesi food you’ve been eating, but it also provides fantastic views of the city. One tip: Rent a scooter (or if you’re feeling extra fit, take a bike) and ride to the top, then wind behind the back roads for spectacular views of Italian countryside. Via di S. Luca 36


Lolliposh: This is one of my favorite boutiques. It has wide selection of high-end, curated baby and children’s clothing and other items to make you swoon over the small sizes and delicate details. Upstairs there are home goods, fabrics and other beautiful one-of-a-kind finds. Plus, there are sewing and craft activities to keep small hands busy in a room near the back. Via Urbana 1/B | tel +39 051 644 8448


Trattoria Meloncello: Word has it that this place is awesome. Seems like a great place to catch your breath after walking up to see the Madonna of San Luca. Via Saragozza, 240 | tel +39 051 614 3947

Piadine e Crescentine: For a quick, local and inexpensive (but tasty and authentic) lunch, head here for a piadine (the Italian’s version of a tortilla, folded in half and stuffed with goodies) or a crescentine, a fried bread stuffed with meats, cheeses and a variety of greens. On the corner where Via Rialto and Via Castellata meet



The University of Bologna: Though the campus sprawls through the city, the main administrative building sits between Via Zamboni and Via Trombetti. You can walk through the corridors and peer into internal courtyards adorned with statues. The university is widely recognized as being the oldest in the western world. As I heard one person put it, “It’s so old, when the Renaissance happened, the university had been around for over 500 years.” Wow!

The Historic Library: Walking through the historic library was the closest I’ve ever felt to being at Hogwarts. The building is incredibly beautiful and ornate (and bonus, there are guided tours in English!). Via Zamboni 33 | tel +39051 208 8300

Santa Maria dei Servi: This church is flanked by one of the prettiest piazzas, with all four sides adorned in porticoes. Several markets, including the centuries-old Christmas Market each December, are held outside the church.


Osteria Brocaindoso: Eating here is an experience unlike any other. Rather than paying for specific plates, most patrons simply pay for courses. (We always get the antipasti, primi and dolce courses). When the antipasti course begins, your table suddenly fills with over a dozen dishes for you to try. Then they bring in a variety of dishes to choose from and the dessert (oh the dessert!). Come prepared to have someone roll you home. The food is fabulous, very traditional and abundant, the staff is warm and the atmosphere is authentic. If you want to see a lot of locals (this is a local favorite), make your reservations for around 9pm. Via Broccaindosso, 7/a tel +051 234 153

Osteria dell’Orsa: If you want a taste of the university scene (and a cheap but good meal) to go with it, this is a great place to grab a meal. I got tortelloni with a gorgonzola and hazelnut sauce. The food is great, and it’s a fun spot to take in college life in Italy. Via Mentana, 1 | tel +051 231 576

Trattoria Anna Maria: After an afternoon at the Bologna’s National Gallery on the same street, stop by this trattoria for highly recommended traditional cuisine. Via delle Belle Arti 17 | tel +39  051 266 894

Il Gelatauro: If you want to try exotic gelato flavors like fig and balsamic, ginger or green tea, this place is sure to hit the spot. Via San Vitale, 98 from 8am to 11pm

Spacca Napoli: This is some of my very favorite pizza in town. It’s also some of my favorite priced pizza in town. Via San Vitale, 45 | tel +39 051 261743



MAMbo: There’s not a lot to see in this section of the city. It was heavily bombed during WWII, and the reconstruction isn’t nearly as charming as other sections of the city. However, I think the MAMbo is a must-see. It’s a well-curated, beautiful museum. Via Don Minzoni, 14


Hotel Touring: Had we not had such awesome guest accommodations (right, Mom and Dad?), this is the hotel we would have recommended to friends and family who came into town. It’s steps away from one of my favorite churches, San Domenico (which has a few early Michelangelo pieces), and is in a quieter part of town. From the people we’ve talked to who stayed there, it can’t be recommended highly enough.

Hotel Roma: This hotel is right off the Piazza Maggiore. You can’t get a more central location (and it’s just up the street from Lucio Dalla’s old luxury apartment!).

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  • I love Bologna. The food is amazing and love that it isn’t as crowded with tourists in the high season (when we inevitably go on holiday as my OH is a teacher). Also great HQ for day trips to Modena, Parma and a couple other destinations.

  • I am going to Italy in 2 weeks and would love to take this info with me. It would be wonderful if ALL the city guides had a PDF download that we could print out.

  • Just got back from Italy, and regret more than anything not setting aside more time for Bologna. We were only there for 1 night and had a terrific time. It is a very ‘real’ city.

  • @pamela I’m from Italy, I live near Bologna, if you have any question feel free to ask me.
    Thank you to came here, it’s a rebuilt period for my region cause the earthquake, the turism it’s important..

  • I want to think this is a sign from that i’m getting the scholarship to go to Bologna next september. Please may it be a sign!!!

  • Sigh. I spent a night in Bologna on my own in 2004 while driving down to Tuscany to meet up with family. It was a warm summer night and I remember finding it very charming. This wonderful post reminds me I have got to get back and do some serious eating this time!

  • I was here for 3 nights in May (actually, our last night was the night of the large earthquake that happened). Of our 3-week trip through Italy, this was my husband’s favourite city. The city comes alive at night. The food is amazing – Bologna has ruined prosciutto for me, it was just too good and I can’t eat what we have here in Toronto anymore. I also loved the smaller places close by for day trips. If in Bologna, take a day trip to Ravenna. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Thanks Paige for this amazing post! I lived in Bologna (up in the hills) as an au pair for 2 months a few years ago and I wish I would have had this guide then. But this still brings back great memories. I basically lived in the library off of Piazza di Nettuno when I wasn’t working :)

  • If you visit Italy, you can’t miss Bologna!!! I’m in love with the city and dream of the day when I go back. The Church of Santa María della Vita is breathtaking, don’t miss that either!


  • There’s also a how to spend 48 hours in Bologna, with recommendations for where to stay, eat, shop and what to see.

  • Thinking of going to Italy in a few weeks,need info on good shopping for leather bags/shoes in Bologna cos I heard there are good deals. Pls help!

  • I’m going to be in Bologna for a week and this information is just great. Any suggestion for a women travelling solo while my husband is on his bicicle trip?

  • I’m going to Bologna in June so the information is timely. Any recommendation for a women traveling solo would be appreciated. Thanks

  • I am traveling to Bologna this week! Please share where to shop. I am not interested in where tourist shop….I want to know where the natives find their deals! Also, what is the weather in late October/early November? Day trips? Is it easy to get to Florence or Venice?
    Thanks! Lauren

  • Such a beautifil place!
    I would like to learn Spanish over there..

    I like the colors from the buildings.. so nice!