First Timer’s Guide to Bologna, Italy

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I lived in Bologna for 3 months in 2014 and I liked it so much that I’m moving to that wonderful city next June. I’m Spanish, so we have a culture and lifestyle quite similar to Italy: we follow the Mediterranean flow. Italy is usually welcoming for tourism and is warm with people and maybe that’s why a lot of people are in love with this wonderful country. Bologna is called in Italy “la rossa, la grassa e la dotta”. “La rossa” due to the red colours of the buildings mainly made of clay. “La grassa” due to the fantastic cuisine. “La dotta” since the Università di Bologna is the oldest occidental university.

The best way to move around Bologna is the bus: buy a Citypass for 10 trips in the kiosk or the information point. In Bologna, shops and other services usually open from Monday to Sunday. Eating schedule in Italy is in between Spanish and European lifestyle: Lunch around 1pm and dinner around 8pm. Italy has the fantastic “aperitivo/apero” and around 6-7pm, bars offer food with the drink. While some bars offer the food of the aperitivo for free, others offer the aperitivo for some extra euros.

Piccola Venezia by Trip To Adventure

Piccola Venezia by Trip To Adventure


Phrases to Know

Here are some helpful phrases to know in Italian before your visit.

  • Ciao – Hi
  • Ciao- Bye
  • Birra – beer
  • Vino-wine
  • Dove é il bagno – Where is the bathroom
  • Amici- friends
  • Per favore- Please
  • Grazie mille- Thank you very much
  • Bisogno- I need
  • Io sono da- I am from ex: Io sono dei Stati Uniti- I am from the U.S.
  • Me chiamo – My name is
  • Mercato – market
  • Treno- train
  • Aiuta- Help

Food and Drinks That Are a Must

It’s known worldwide that Italian cuisine is one of the best, so prepare to enjoy every meal when staying in Bologna. The following food and dishes are essential for discovering “la grassa” Bologna.

Giardini Serre by Trip To Adventure

Giardini Serre by Trip To Adventure

  • Aperitivo and spritz – Don’t forget to ask for a fresh Spritz and enjoy the Italian taste
  • Parmiggiano, Parma ham and mortadella – Emilia-Romagna is an area with excellent cold meat and cheese, being parmiggiano, parma ham and mortadella the most known ones. Believe me, it’s totally worth it to buy some of them to take back home and enjoy it with the family and friends.
  • Wine – Italian one is famous around the world. The wineries of Tuscany have been the set for multiple movies. Emilia-Romagna area has also a good “terroir” for wine production. There are several wine-bars around the city to enjoy some of the local brands.
  • Pasta “alla ragú” – The Bolognese food (with tomato and meat) is called in Italian “alla ragú”. Do not hesitate to try the pasta with this sauce!
  • Tortellini in brodo – Every area of Italy serves pasta in a different manner. The typical pasta of Bologna is “Tortellini in brodo”. Just delicious!
  • Pizza – You can try pizza in a restaurant or in the small pizza shops in the main street (Via Rizzoli)

Things to See and Do

Architecture, art and history are key elements of Bologna, as other Italian cities. However, I should highlight a couple of elements that make Bologna unique from a touristic point. First, tourism is present in Bologna but not in the form of mass tourism as in Rome, Florence, Venice or Verona (which sometimes make the visit horrible). One can feel really relaxed while walking around the city. Second, the entire city center of Bologna is protected against urban development leading to a well maintained old downtown. Streets, towers and buildings are historical, transporting tourists to some centuries ago.

Two Towers by Trip To Adventure

Two Towers by Trip To Adventure

  • The heart of Bologna is the Piazza Maggiore. This big square is a public space open to old and majestic buildings: the Basilica di San Petronio (the main cathedral of the town), Palazzo Comunale (the town hall), Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo dei Notai and il Palazzo Re Enzo are some of them. Next to the Piazza Maggiore you can find la Fontana del Nettuno, one of the symbols of the city. Following the arcades of Via dell’Archiginnasio one can get to the Museo Civico Archeologico and the Archiginnasio, where tourists can visit an anatomical theater built in 1673.
  • Via Pescherie Vecchie is an excellent place to stop for lunch or dinner in one of the diverse bars and small restaurants of the street. Ask for some Crescentine with cold meat with your wine!
  • At the end of Via Rizzoli, you will find the symbol of the city: the two towers. During medieval times, rich families demonstrated their power by constructing the tallest tower of the city. There were up to 125 towers and now the city still has around 25 towers. The two towers – Torri degli Asinelli e Torri Garisenda – were the tallest ones that remain from that competition. You can go up to the tallest one: the Asinelli tower for only 3€ and have a great view of the city of Bologna!
  • Look for the 7 secrets of Bologna: the secret penis of Nettuno, la finestrela alla piccola Venezia (the window to the small Venezia) in Via Piella, the 7 churches in Piazza Santo Stefano, the devil face in an old building of Piazza Santo Stefano, the three arrows in Via San Vitale, the letters on the ceilings in Via dell’Independenza and the sunlight calendar of the Basilica di San Petronio.
  • If you want to have a walk and relax in a green area, Giardini Margherita is one of the biggest urban parks if the city. It’s placed between Porta Castiglione and Porta Santo Stefano. The garden has multiple paths for walking or running, some cafés and a lake with turtles. During summer, one of the most famous bars is “la serre” (the greenhouse), which is a bar that has restored old flower greenhouses.
  • From Porta Saragossa one can follow the arcades that get out from the city center and reach all the way to the “santuario della Madonna di San Luca”. This church is placed on a small mountain, offering splendid views along the way and from the top. Furthermore, all the way is under arches, making the climbing unforgettable.

San Luca by Trip To Adventure

San Luca by Trip To Adventure

Italy has a particular magic that makes people fall in love with it, and Bologna hides some surprises. Get ready to taste unique Italian food, find the secrets of Bologna and enjoy the active cultural and nightlife of the city.



Meet The Author

Esther is a part-time travel blogger for Trip To Adventure that combines visits to magnificient cities with outdoor and adventure activities to get in touch with nature. She has traveled in three continents, mainly in Europe. She prefers to find out the secrets of places by herself or asking locals rather than checking Lonelyplanets. You can follow her travels on Instagram and Facebook!