The ultimate 3-days Bologna itinerary with historical highlights
September 5, 2023
Exploring Bologna in Italy is a journey through time and culture, offering a blend of history, architecture, and mouthwatering cuisine. If you’re a history enthusiast and have a love for Italian cities, Bologna is a destination that should be at the top of your travel list. Join me on a journey as I delve into Bologna’s historical highlights, the best ways to reach the city, the best areas to stay and the ultimate 3-days Bologna itinerary. Buon viaggio!
Quick introduction to Bologna
Bologna is known for its food culture, rich history and breathtaking architecture. If you travel to the city, there’s a high chance that Bologna is called by one of the unusual nicknames:
‘La Grassa‘ means “the fat”, paying homage to its culinary traditions.
‘La Dotta‘ means “the learned”, as it is home to the oldest university in the world.
‘La Rossa‘ means “the red” and is the color of most of the terracotta rooftops in the city. It also speaks to the origins of the political system of the city.
Remember these nicknames and you will begin to see exactly how they came about. I think that Bologna is one of the best-kept secrets in Italy, especially if you are a lover of days gone by.
How to travel to Bologna?
Traveling to Bologna, Italy is relatively straightforward and you can reach the city by various means, including by air, train, and road. Here are some option for traveling to Bologna:
– By Air
The easiest way to reach Bologna is by flying into Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ). It’s well-connected to major Italian and European cities and it’s the most convenient option if you’re traveling from outside Europe. While there may not be direct flights from some international locations, you can typically connect through major European hubs like Rome, Milan, or Frankfurt.
From the airport you can easily reach the city center of Bologna. The airport is located approximately 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the city center. You can get to Bologna by taxi, airport shuttle buses, or a local train service called the “Aerobus.” The Aerobus connects the airport to Bologna Centrale train station, making it a convenient option.
– By Train
Bologna is well-connected to the Italian and European rail network. The main train station in Bologna is called “Bologna Centrale.” High-speed trains, such as Frecciarossa and Frecciargento, connect Bologna to cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples. If you’re traveling from neighboring countries like Austria, Switzerland, or France, you can take international trains that connect to Bologna.
– By Bus
Long-distance buses are another option for reaching Bologna, especially if you’re traveling on a budget. Several bus companies operate routes to and from Bologna from various Italian and European cities.
– By Car
If you prefer to travel by road, you can reach Bologna by car. The city is well-connected to the Italian highway network. If you’re coming from Milan or other northern cities, take the A1 Autostrada (Italy’s main highway) south towards Bologna and if you’re coming from cities like Florence or Rome, take the A1 Autostrada north to Bologna.
Bologna has several parking facilities, but it’s essential to check the availability and pricing of parking spaces in advance, as parking in the city center can be limited.
I always use 12GoAsia when traveling in other countries. With just a few taps, you can easily book a ride ensuring a seamless and budget-friendly travel experience. Most of the time, you will receive a digital transportation ticket, so you don’t have to worry about printing.
How to get around in Bologna?
Once you arrive in Bologna, you can explore the city using the efficient public transportation system, including buses and a well-connected train network. Consider purchasing the Bologna Card for discounts on museums and unlimited use of public transportation during your visit.
Walking is also a great way to discover the historic city center, which is compact and pedestrian-friendly.
A 3-days Bologna itinerary with the historical sights to explore
This 3-day itinerary will allow you to immerse yourself in Bologna’s rich historical and cultural heritage while also taking a day trip to explore nearby historic sites:
Day 1: Exploring Bologna’s Historic Center
The adventure begins in the historic center of Bologna. Start your day at the heart of Bologna: Piazza Maggiore. Here, you can admire beautiful buildings like the Basilica di San Petronio. Inside the Basilica you can explore the interior, which dates back to the 14th century. Don’t forget to look down in the Basilica – there’s an astronomical sundial on the floor. You can also take the elevator and enjoy the beautiful views of the city.
Before heading to the next historical attractions, make sure to sit back for a moment on the Piazza Maggiore and to enjoy the live music and the antics of street performers.
Then continue your trip to the Palazzo d’Accursio. Here, you can visit the City Hall, a historic palace where you can see the stunning Renaissance rooms and the Civic Art Collection. At the square, you can also see the Fontana del Nettuno, a prominent symbol of Bologna.
If you’re a fan of knights and dragons, the Medieval Museum is worth a visit. This museum is only a four-minute walk from the Fountain of Neptune and is housed in a 15th century palazzo.
After visiting these sights, you’re probably hungry. Visit a local trattoria and enjoy a traditional Bolognese lunch. One of my favorite dishes is tagliatelle al ragù (Bolognese sauce). You might want to check it out! 😉
In the afternoon you can head to Archiginnasio of Bologna and discover the stunning former university building. Explore its richly decorated lecture halls and the Anatomical Theatre.
Then continue walking towards the Two Towers (Due Torri) and climb the Torre degli Asinelli or admire the Torre Garisenda. These iconic towers are a symbol of Bologna and offer beautiful panoramic views.
End the day by savoring some authentic Italian cuisine at a local trattoria in the historic center. Try some tortellini or mortadella.
Day 2: Historical Museums and Galleries
Start day two with a delicious breakfast at your hotel or in a local trattoria and then head to Museo Civico Archeologico to dive into the history of ancient Bologna. Here, you can see Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. Another great museum to visit is the Museum of Modern Art (MAMbo). If you’re interested in modern and contemporary art, visit MAMbo to explore works by Italian and international artists.
Head to Mercato delle Erbe, a vibrant food market for a delicious lunch and try some regional dishes. If you’re still hungry after visiting the food market, try some gelato. Italy is renowned for its gelato, and Bologna is no exception. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a scoop or two of authentic Italian gelato from local gelaterias. My favorite flavors are stracciatella and pistachio! 😉
Spend your afternoon in the National Art Gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale) and admire a vast collection of Italian paintings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, including works by Giotto, Raffaello, and Titian.
Finish your day with a dinner in a local restaurant and sample more Bolognese specialties.
Day 3: Day Trip to Nearby Historical Sites
After breakfast, check out in your accommodation and leave your bulky belongings at a luggage storage locker (or in your car) to avoid dragging extra bags along for your last day. On this day it might be fun to explore nearby historical sites to enrich your understanding of Bologna’s heritage.
I recommend to take a short drive to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca, perched on a hill overlooking Bologna. Step inside and enjoy the gilded interior complete with elaborate frescoes and majestic pillars. Statues of the Virgin Mary can be found throughout and she is even prominent in much of the artwork and tapestries. You can also walk along the 3.8-kilometer covered portico. It is a fantastic place to snap photos of the city, which is 980 feet below.
For lunch it’s nice to visit Trattoria Casa Mia. Here, you can enjoy a traditional Italian dish.
In the afternoon, it’s a great idea to explore Villa Pallavicini before heading back to Bologna. Visit the historic villa and explore the beautiful gardens. Then head back to the city and take a leisurely evening walk around the historic center. Visit any sites you may have missed on the first day and end your trip with a memorable dinner at Osteria dell’Orsa, a popular osteria, offering a wide selection of local dishes and wines.
Accommodation in Bologna
Bologna offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit various budgets and preferences. When choosing your accommodation in Bologna, it’s a good idea to consider your budget, proximity to the places you want to visit, and the atmosphere you desire. Be sure to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure your preferred choice. The best place to stay in Bologna largely depends on your interests and priorities. Here are some popular areas and types of accommodations to consider:
– Historic Center (Centro Storico)
Staying in the heart of Bologna’s historic center provides convenient access to many of the city’s attractions. You’ll find charming boutique hotels, guesthouses, and apartments in this area. Some recommended areas within the historic center include Piazza Maggiore, Via Indipendenza, and Via dell’Indipendenza.
– University District (Zona Universitaria)
This area is close to the University of Bologna and offers a youthful and vibrant atmosphere. It’s a great choice for travelers interested in the city’s academic and cultural life. You’ll find a mix of budget-friendly hostels, mid-range hotels, and student-friendly hangouts.
– Bologna Central Station (Stazione Centrale)
If you plan to arrive by train, this area is convenient. It’s well-connected to public transportation and offers a variety of hotels, from budget to upscale options.
– San Donato
Located just outside the historic center, San Donato is a quieter and more residential area. It’s an excellent choice if you prefer a peaceful atmosphere while still being within walking distance of the main attractions.
– Porta Saragozza
This area is known for its beautiful old city gates and charming streets. It’s a more tranquil part of the city, and you can find some lovely boutique hotels and guesthouses.
– Countryside Retreats
If you’re seeking a more relaxed and rustic experience, consider staying in the nearby Emilia-Romagna countryside. Agriturismi (farm stays) and country retreats offer a serene escape from the city’s hustle and bustle while still being accessible.
Other tips for visiting Bologna, Italy:
To make the most of your trip to Bologna, here are some more tips to keep in mind:
Rocchetta Mattei: is another beautiful fortress located in the Northern Apennine Mountains. Rocchetta Mattei is situated between Bologna and Florence. Wander through the courtyards, climb the stairs to the different towers and snap photos of the countryside below. The eclectic mix of architectural styles brings the entire fortress together into one fabulous jewel that has to be experienced.
Respect Siesta Hours: Many businesses in Bologna observe siesta, a period of rest, in the afternoon (typically from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM). Plan your activities and meals accordingly, as some shops and restaurants may be closed during this time.
Learn Some Basic Italian Phrases: While many Bolognese speak English, knowing a few Italian phrases can enhance your experience and help you connect with locals. Simple greetings and expressions go a long way.
Respect Dress Codes for Religious Sites: When visiting churches and religious sites like the Basilica di San Petronio, ensure that you dress modestly. Avoid wearing sleeveless tops, shorts, or revealing clothing, and cover your shoulders.
In conclusion, Bologna offers a remarkable blend of rich heritage, architectural wonders and delicious cuisine. By exploring its historic center, admiring its unique porticoes, and indulging in local food, you can truly immerse yourself in the charm of this Italian city. Whether you’re savoring tagliatelle al ragù, admiring the terracotta rooftops or wandering through the city’s covered arcades, you’ll discover that Bologna is a city where history and tradition come to life at every turn. With these tips and a well-planned itinerary, your visit to Bologna is bound to be a memorable journey through time and culture.
If you have any questions about the above mentioned information, please let me know in the comment section below. I’m happy to help you. Buon viaggio!