Bologna: The Complete Guide

Bologna, a captivating city, holds the distinction of being the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region. Renowned by many Italians as the second most beautiful city after Venice, it boasts a rich heritage and a vibrant atmosphere. Bologna’s charm lies in its relaxed and stress-free lifestyle, accompanied by a warm and lively ambiance. Its historic center, one of the largest and best-preserved in Italy, showcases remarkable architecture characterized by extensive porticos—a feature that is uniquely well-maintained in Europe. The cityscape is adorned with brick buildings crowned by terracotta tiles, presenting a breathtaking array of reds and oranges.

Within Bologna’s boundaries lies the oldest university in Europe, established in the 11th century. With a significant portion of its population comprising university students, the city exudes a vibrant energy that contributes to its lively atmosphere, thriving nightlife, and theatrical offerings. Bologna holds the title of the Italian hub for rock and alternative music, hosting nearly 100 concerts annually featuring internationally renowned bands.

Often hailed as the culinary capital of Italy, Bologna’s gastronomy is a source of great pride. It is famous for its delectable specialties such as Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, lasagne, and spaghetti Bolognese, all originating from this vibrant city.

Visiting Bologna for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Bologna on the first visit. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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History of Bologna

Bologna’s history spans over 3,000 years, reaching back to the Bronze Age, with significant developments during the Iron Age when Villanovian villages flourished. Skilled blacksmiths and potters inhabited these villages, establishing trade connections with Greeks and Phoenicians. In the 6th century, the Etruscans gained dominance, succeeded by Gauls in the 4th century BC and later by the Romans in the 2nd century, renaming it Bononia.

Bologna thrived as a Roman city, but with the Empire’s decline, it faced occupation by Byzantines, Visigoths, and Lombards. The Lombards used it strategically for military purposes from the 8th century. Seeking free commune status in the 11th century, Bologna founded what many consider the world’s first university in 1088, marking a remarkable era of prominence in the medieval world. Notable historic buildings, including the iconic Two Towers (Due Torri), were constructed during this period.

In 1506, Papal troops seized Bologna, leading to the construction of numerous churches and convents. The university expanded, establishing botanical gardens in 1568. Napoleonic rule began in 1797, and Bologna joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. In WWII, Bolognese Jews faced deportation, and the city’s historic centre experienced Allied aerial bombardment in 1941. Post-war, Bologna became a key industrial centre, growing into one of Italy’s wealthiest cities with a strong leftist political tradition and culinary excellence.

Notable historical facts include the construction of 180 towers by Bologna’s elite during the Middle Ages for displays of wealth and power. Despite its leftist tradition, the city’s grand football stadium, built under Mussolini, symbolized fascist might. Additionally, during the “Years of Lead,” a bomb planted by fascists at Bologna station resulted in 85 casualties, marking one of the post-war era’s worst tragedies.

26 Best places to See in Bologna

This complete guide to Bologna not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Bologna and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Piazza Nettuno

Fontana Del Nettuno E Palazzo Re Enzo
CC BY-SA 4.0 / EvelinaRibarova
The square, named after the statue of Neptune, was established in 1564 to showcase the iconic sculpture. Its creation involved the demolition of a block of buildings, expanding the space between Palazzo d’Accursio and Palazzo del Podestà. The statue of Neptune, crafted by the renowned Flemish sculptor Jean de Boulogne, also known as Giambologna, and […]
Location: Piazza Nettuno, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.00km
Visiting Piazza Nettuno

Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore Bologna
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Vanni Lazzari
Piazza Maggiore, located in the heart of the city center, holds a significant historical legacy as one of the oldest squares in Italy. This vibrant square serves as a meeting point for the locals and plays host to numerous major events that bring the city to life. To truly immerse yourself in the essence of […]
Location: Piazza Maggiore, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: 24 hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Piazza Maggiore

Palazzo del Podesta, Bologna

Palazzo Del Podesta Bologna
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Georges Jansoone
The Podesta Palace, also known as Palazzo del Podesta, stands as a prominent historical landmark cherished by history and architecture enthusiasts. It was initially constructed in 1200 to serve as the first seat of government in Bologna. However, due to its insufficient size, the Palazzo Re Enzo was later built to accommodate the expanding governmental […]
Location: Palazzo del Podestà, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Admission only during exhibitions | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Palazzo del Podesta, Bologna

Palazzo Re Enzo

Palazzo Re Enzo Bologna
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Vanni Lazzari
Palazzo Re Enzo, situated on in the historic centre of Bologna, stands as a remarkable palace with a fascinating history. It derives its name from Enzio of Sardinia, the son of Frederick II, who was held captive within its walls from 1249 until his passing in 1272. It is also called ‘ Palazzo Nuovo ‘ to distinguish […]
Location: Palazzo Re Enzo, Piazza del Nettuno, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Palazzo Re Enzo

Palazzo d'Accursio

Palazzo D’Accursio Bologna
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Vanni Lazzari
Palazzo d’Accursio, also known as Palazzo Comunale, is a magnificent palace situated in Bologna. Nestled on the Piazza Maggiore, it served as the city’s Town Hall until November 11, 2008. The palace is renowned for housing the Civic Art Collection, showcasing paintings ranging from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Additionally, it is home […]
Location: Palazzo d'Accursio, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: From Tuesday to Friday: 09:00 – 18:30 Saturday and Sunday: 10:00 – 18:30 Monday Closed| Price: Free entry | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Palazzo d'Accursio

San Pietro Cathedral

Bologna CathedralSanPietro
CC BY-SA 3.0 / CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
Since at least 1028, St. Peter’s Cathedral has occupied the same site, serving as a significant religious landmark. The original church met its demise, giving way to a consecrated new church in 1184. In 1396, a grand portico was added, enhancing the cathedral’s appearance. Subsequently, during the 15th century, a series of frescoes adorned its […]
Location: Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, Via dell'Indipendenza, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: From Monday to Saturday: 7:30 am – 6:45 pm Sunday 8:00 am – 6:45 pm Bell Tower: Every Saturday from 2.00pm to 4.30pm in summer also from 19:00 to 23:00 cost: 5 euros | Price: Free entry | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting San Pietro Cathedral

Monument to Fallen Partisans

Biblioteca Sala Borsa
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Pietro Luca Cassarino
During your visit to Bologna’s Fountain of Neptune, take a moment to direct your gaze slightly northwest towards the east-facing wall of Palazzo d’Accursio. There, you will discover a poignant memorial dedicated to the fallen partisans of Bologna’s resistance movement during World War II. This memorial originated shortly after the city’s liberation, as indicated by […]
Location: Biblioteca Salaborsa, Piazza del Nettuno, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Monument to Fallen Partisans

Biblioteca Salaborsa

Biblioteca Salaborsa
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Lorenzo Gaudenzi
Situated in Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Salaborsa serves as the primary public library. In 2001, the library’s central offices were relocated to the northern sections of Palazzo d’Accursio, which is positioned adjacent to Piazza del Nettuno, a short distance north of Piazza Maggiore. A unique feature of the library is the opportunity […]
Location: Biblioteca Salaborsa, Piazza del Nettuno, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Monday: 2.30pm-8.00pm Tuesday - Friday: 10am- 8pm Saturday & Sunday: 10am to 7pm | Price: Free | Website | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Biblioteca Salaborsa

Torre Prendiparte o Coronata

Torre Dei Prendiparte
CC BY-SA 4.0 / TeKappa
The Prendiparte Tower, also known as the Coronata Tower, was originally constructed in the 12th century by the Prendiparte family, a prominent guelph family in Bologna, as a defensive structure. Standing at a height of 60 meters, it is the second tallest tower in the city after the Asinelli Tower. Interestingly, it was initially intended […]
Location: Torre Prendiparte (Sky Experience), Piazzetta Prendiparte, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Open on Sundays 11am-2pm; 2:30pm-6:30pm | Website | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Torre Prendiparte o Coronata

Santa Maria della Vita & Oratory of Battuti

Oratorio Dei Battuti, Santa Maria Della Vita, Bologna
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Dimitris Kamaras
The Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita is a Roman Catholic church situated in Quadrilatero district in the heart of Bologna, near Piazza Maggiore. The church, built in the late Baroque style, is an architectural gem that showcases the artistic mastery of its creators. Construction of the present church commenced between 1687 and 1690, based […]
Location: Santa Maria della Vita, Via Clavature, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: From Tuesday to Sunday: 10am - 6:30pm. Last entrance 1h before closing time. | Price: €5 | Website | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Santa Maria della Vita & Oratory of Battuti

Basilica di San Petronio

Basilica Di San Petronio Bologna
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Vanni Lazzari
Situated in Piazza Maggiore, the Basilica of San Petronio holds great significance as the largest and most prominent church in Bologna. It is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, San Petronio. The construction of the basilica commenced in 1390 under the supervision of Antonio di Vincenzo. A noteworthy proposal was put forward by Arduino degli […]
Location: Basilica di San Petronio, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Every day from 8.30am to 1.00pm and from 3.00pm to 6.30pm During the religious services, the tourist visit could be limited or suspended | Price: San Petronio: Free, San Petronio photo ticket: € 2,00, Cappella dei magi: € 5,00 / € 3,00, Museum: Free | Website | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Basilica di San Petronio

Palazzo dei Banchi (Banchi Palace)

Bologna Palazzo Dei Banchi
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Giovanni Dall'Orto
Palazzo dei Banchi is a magnificent Renaissance-style palace located on the eastern side of Piazza Maggiore in the heart of Bologna. During the 16th century, when the current façade was built, Piazza Maggiore served as the main public square of Bologna, surrounded by significant religious and political institutions such as the Basilica of San Petronio, […]
Location: Palazzo dei Banchi, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: interior is closed to the public | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Palazzo dei Banchi (Banchi Palace)

Museo Civico Archeologico (Archaelogical Museum)

Museo Civico Archeologico Di Bologna
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Ugeorge
The Archaeological Civic Museum, known as the Museo Civico Archeologico in Italian, holds a prominent position among Bologna’s esteemed museums. Housed within the Palazzo Galvani, a 15th-century building located in the heart of the city just a stone’s throw away from Piazza Maggiore, the museum offers a captivating journey through history. First opened to the […]
Location: Museo Civico Archeologico, Via dell'Archiginnasio, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri 9am-7pm| Sat, Sun 10am-8pm. Closed on Tue (except for holidays), 1 May, Dec 25th and Dec 31st. The ticket office closes one hour before. | Price: Adults € 6 Reduced price: € 3 / € 2 | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Museo Civico Archeologico (Archaelogical Museum)

The Two Towers: Garisenda and Degli Asinelli

The Two Tower Garisenda And Degli Asinelli
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Clo5919
The iconic twin towers in Bologna are widely recognized as emblematic symbols of the city, situated at the point where the ancient Via Emilia, also known as the Aemilian Way, enters the city center. Among the two towers, the Asinelli Tower is the only one accessible to the public. Prior online booking or a visit […]
Location: Two Towers, Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: In the winter months open only on Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm; from March opening hours 9-18. Tickets must be purchased at the Bologna Welcome Centre in Piazza Maggiore. | Price: Adults: € 5 | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting The Two Towers: Garisenda and Degli Asinelli

Archiginnasio - Teatro Anatomico

Archiginnasio Ora Blu Bologna
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wwikiwalter
Situated in the heart of Bologna’s historic city centre, the Archiginnasio holds a significant position as one of the city’s most notable palaces. Since 1838, it has served as the Municipal Library’s residence. Commissioned by Cardinal Borromeo, the palace’s construction took place between 1562 and 1563 under the guidance of architect Antonio Morandi, also known […]
Location: Teatro Anatomico, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Palace:Monday to Saturday 9.00 – 19.00 Sunday and holidays 10.00 – 14.00Anatomical Theatre and Stabat Mater Room:Monday to Friday 10.00 – 18.00 Saturday 10.00 – 19.00 Sunday and holidays 10.00 – 14.00. | Price: € 3 | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Archiginnasio - Teatro Anatomico

Palazzo Della Mercanzia (Merchandise Palace)

Palazzo Della Mercanzia, Bologna, 31/3/2007
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Ambra75
The Palazzo della Mercanzia, constructed in 1382, showcases the remarkable Gothic architectural style and was crafted by architects Lorenzo da Bagnomarino and Antonio di Vincenzo. Throughout its history, various designers added decorative elements like hanging arches, sculptures, pillars, and spiral columns, each representing distinct design schools. Initially, the palace served as the Universitas Mercatorum, or […]
Location: Palazzo della Mercanzia, Piazza della Mercanzia, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Palazzo Della Mercanzia (Merchandise Palace)

Porticoes of Piazza Cavour

Porticoes Of Piazza Cavour
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Fabrizio Garrisi
If you’ve visited Bologna, you’ll surely recognize its distinctive porticoes. These covered walkways with stone entrance arches, vaulted ceilings, and marble floors are a prominent feature of the city. Originally designed to provide additional living space above ground level while preserving pedestrian areas (including space for horses in the past), the porticoes underwent a transformation […]
Location: Piazza Cavour, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: 24 hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Porticoes of Piazza Cavour

Jewish Museum of Bologna

The Jewish Museum of Bologna, established in 1999, can be found adjacent to the former ghetto within a renovated wing of the 16th-century Palazzo Pannolini, dedicated exclusively to housing the museum. Comprising three distinct sections, the museum provides a comprehensive experience for visitors. The first section houses the permanent exhibition, while the second section hosts […]
Location: Museo Ebraico di Bologna, Via Valdonica, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Sunday - Monday - Wednesday 10.00 - 18.00 | Tuesday - Thursday 10.00 - 19.30 | Friday 10.00 - 16.00 | last admission 45 minutes before closing time | closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays | Price: Adults €7 | Website | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Jewish Museum of Bologna

Finestrella di Via Piella

Finestrella Di Via Piella
CC BY-SA 4.0 / DONATELLA BAJO
Passing through the Porta Govese or Torresotto dei Piella, you will arrive at a notable sight—the renowned window overlooking the Canale delle Moline and the accompanying bridge, both offering captivating views of the canal. This particular corner of the city has earned the moniker “little Venice.” As you gaze out amidst the surrounding buildings, you […]
Location: Via Piella, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Finestrella di Via Piella

Seven Churches and the Basilica of Santo Stefano

Basiica Di Santo Stefano Bologna
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Vanni Lazzari
Among the fascinating churches adorned with art in Bologna, the Basilica of Santo Stefano stands out as the oldest and most evocative.  It is mainly known as “sette chiese” (“seven churches”) because it is the merger of multiple buildings erected in different eras. This complex, consisting of eight buildings, could be considered the birthplace of faith in Bologna. […]
Location: Piazza Santo Stefano, Via Santo Stefano, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Price: Free | Distance: 0.50km
Visiting Seven Churches and the Basilica of Santo Stefano

Palazzo Isolani

The Palazzo Isolani is situated at Via Santo Stefano #16, facing Piazza Santo Stefano in the centre of Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It showcases a harmonious blend of Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements. Designed by Pagno di Lapo Portigiani from Fiesole, the construction of the palace took place between 1451 and 1455 for the Bolognini family. […]
Location: Corte Isolani, 5, 40125 Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Website | Distance: 0.50km
Visiting Palazzo Isolani

Palazzo Fantuzzi

Palazzo Fantuzzi
CC BY-SA 4.0 / WanderingTrad
Palazzo Fantuzzi is a remarkable palace in the Renaissance architectural style, situated in the heart of Bologna. Renowned for its intricate exterior ornamentation and exquisite interior ceilings, it stands as a testament to the grandeur of its time. The palace was meticulously designed in 1517 by the esteemed architect Andrea da Formigine. The façade, adorned […]
Location: Palazzo Fantuzzi, Via San Vitale, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Distance: 0.60km
Visiting Palazzo Fantuzzi

Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Gallery)

Situated just a short distance from the iconic Two Towers, the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, also known as the National Gallery of Bologna, is housed within the former Jesuit novitiate of St. Ignatius, a magnificent 17th-century building. Since its opening to the public in 1885, the gallery has undergone a complete renovation in 1997, transforming […]
Location: Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Via delle Belle Arti, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: 9am-2pm. Thursday to Sunday 9am-7pm| Price: Adults €8 | Website | Distance: 0.90km
Visiting Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Gallery)

MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna (Modern Art Gallery)

The Bologna Museum of Modern Art, known as MAMbo, was established in 2007 and forms part of the Modern and Contemporary Art Area of the Musei Civici Bologna. Housed in a converted bakery, the museum offers a comprehensive exploration of Italian art from the post-World War II era to the present day, with a constant […]
Location: MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Via Don Giovanni Minzoni, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: Tuesday to Thursday 2pm-7pm | Price: Adults: €6 | Website | Distance: 1.00km
Visiting MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna (Modern Art Gallery)

Sanctuary of San Luca

Sanctuary Of San Luca
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Maretta Angelini
The Sanctuary of San Luca, situated on Colle della Guardia, has served as both a religious sanctuary and a symbol of Bologna for countless years. It is connected to the city centre by a road that stretches for four kilometres, beginning at Porta Saragozza and featuring a remarkable portico boasting over 600 archways. This extraordinary […]
Location: Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, Via di San Luca, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Hours: 7:00am-7:00pm From March to October the Sanctuary will close 30min later. Opening times can be subjected to little changes. | Price: Free | Website | Distance: 3.90km
Visiting Sanctuary of San Luca

Rocchetta Mattei

Grizzana Morandi, Rocchetta Mattei
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Gianni Careddu
Situated slightly north of Riola in the municipality of Grizzana Morandi, the Rocchetta Mattei stands as one of the most captivating and distinctive structures in the vicinity of Bologna. The construction of this extraordinary building commenced in 1850 under the direction of Count Cesare Mattei, a prominent figure in Bologna. Disillusioned by political and personal […]
Location: Rocchetta Mattei, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy | Price: Adults: € 10, Children € 5 | Website | Distance: 37.60km
Visiting Rocchetta Mattei

Best Time to Visit Bologna

Visiting Bologna in Spring (March to May): Bologna, particularly in May, is fantastic for walking tours in the hills, witnessing nature’s awakening, blooming flowers, lush greenery, and cherry season. However, it can be a busy tourist season.

Visiting Bologna in Summer (June to August): Bologna in Summer can be challenging due to hot and humid weather, with temperatures reaching 35-36°C and high humidity in July and August. While the city offers sheltered porticos, the heat can be tiring. It’s recommended to intersperse sightseeing with trips to the cooler hills and the Adriatic coast. A highlight is the ‘Cinema sotto le stelle’ in Piazza Maggiore, where outdoor movies are screened mid-June to mid-August.

Visiting Bologna in Autumn or Fall (September and October): Bologna offers pleasant weather, food festivals, and the opportunity to explore nearby villages. However, it can be crowded with tourists. Late October/November may be less crowded, and the fall colors in the hills are captivating.

Visiting Bologna in Winter (December and January): Winter brings a festive atmosphere with holiday decorations, Christmas markets, and mild weather. The shorter days enhance the city’s charm at night. Bologna rarely sees snow, but the nearby Apennine mountains offer snowshoeing opportunities.

Average Temperatures in Bologna

  • January 11°C 6
  • February 13°C 12
  • March 18°C 8
  • April 21°C 8
  • May 26°C 14
  • June 32°C 7
  • July 36°C 6
  • August 35°C 6
  • September 29°C 10
  • October 24°C 8
  • November 16°C 12
  • December 11°C 7

How to get to Bologna

Flights to Bologna:  Bologna can be easily managed from Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ). A taxi ride to the city centre costs around €15, or you can opt for the Aerobus shuttle service connecting the airport to the main railway station. The shuttle runs every 11 minutes in both directions and charges €6 per person. Service starts at 5:30 am, with the last departure at 12:15 am.

Travelling by train to Bologna: Italia Rail offers accessibility, serving as the primary station for convenient journeys to regional areas and neighbouring cities. Check timetables and book tickets on the Italia Rail website or directly at the station for shorter trips. Always remember to validate your ticket using the ‘stamp’ machines before boarding. From the train station, the heart of Bologna city is a 15-minute walk away. Bologna’s train station also serves as a strategic hub for exploring other Italian regions. Venture south to Perugia in 2.5 hours or head north to Verona and Venice to discover the Veneto region.

Travelling by car to Bologna: Italy boasts an excellent network of motorways, known as autostrade (A), with the main north-south link being the autostrada del sole, connecting Milan to Naples.

Tours and Activities from Bologna