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20 Things to do on a Bologna Weekend Break

Planning a weekend in Bologna? Discover things to do in Bologna and explore Bologna food whether you are here for 1, 2, or 3 days.
I've had the good fortune to spend a weekend in Bologna twice: once in March and once in June. One trip was purely a vacation that we researched ourselves. 

On the second trip, I spoke at a conference for my 'day job' and thus had the benefit of advice from locals attending the event to help me make the most of my trip.

How many days should you spend in Bologna? We found that 3 days in Bologna is ideal, especially if you want to do a day trip or two. There are so many things to do in Bologna! 

Read on for my recommendations on what to see and where to eat in the capital of Italy's Emilia Romagna region.

Neptune statue on Piazza Maggiore in Bologna

Things to do in Bologna at a Glance

Start planning your weekend in Bologna by perusing my list of things to do at a glance.
    1. Eat Your Way Through Bologna's Mercatos 
    2. Explore Bologna's Shady Porticos
    3. Go Window Shopping
    4. Stroll Piazza Maggiore by Day and by Night
    5. Tour Basilica di San Petronio
    6. Admire the Leaning Due Torri
    7. Spot Ornate Knobs and Knockers
    8. Photograph Street Art Doors
    9. Check Out Palazzo Isolani
    10. Visit Basilica Santo Stefano
    11. Drink Aperitivo
    12. Sip a Glass of Regional Italian Wine
    13. Eat Bologna's Signature Dishes
    14. Take a Walk in the Park
    15. Head to the University District and Museo di Palazzo Poggi
    16. Visit the Museum of Zoology
    17. Explore the Courtyard of Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio
    18. Seeking out the Town Gates, An Echo of the Past
    19. Ride the Tourist Train to Sanctuario della Madonna di San Luca
    20. Take an Emilia-Romagna Day Trip

    Things to do in Bologna in Detail

    Now let's explore all the things to do on a weekend in Bologna in more detail.

    1. Eat Your Way Through Bologna's Mercatos 

    Bologna and Emilia Romagna are known for food so start by checking out some of Bologna's mercatos. We tried three different places. 

    Check out Mercato della di Terra Bologna to sample mortadella and other regional cuisines.

    Weekend in Bologna - Mercato della di Terra
    June is the perfect time of year to pick out fresh fruit at Mercato delle Erbe. Strawberries, cherries, citrus, and more are on offer. 

    We only know a few polite phrases in Italian but managed to point and mime our way to a bag of cherries that we enjoyed with the local frizzante wine later that day.
    Weekend in Bologna - Mercato delle Erbe

    Mercato di Mezzo in the heart of Bologna's Quadrilatero might be small, but it's a modern market with a vibrant atmosphere, that reminded me of a mini version of Lisbon's Time Out Market, one of my favorite European food halls

    Mercato di Mezzo is the perfect spot for a casual lunch, where you can grab a delicious mortadella sandwich topped with pesto and a chunky wedge of parmesan cheese. Wash it all down with a cold Italian craft beer.
    Beer and a mortadella sandwich at Mercato di Mezzo in Bologna

    2. Explore Bologna's Shady Porticos

    Bologna has great atmosphere thanks to its porticos. These shady walkways jut out from most buildings and protect pedestrians from both the passing traffic and shifting weather patterns. 

    When we visited in June, it was quite warm in town and the porticos offered some much needed cover from the powerful sun. On our return visit in March, the porticos provided protection from passing rain showers.
    Weekend in Bologna - Porticos

    3. Go Window Shopping

    Many of the storefronts in Bologna have been around for years and have great character. I particularly liked window shopping at places like this old lamp shop tucked away under a portico not far from the central train station.
    Weekend in Bologna - the Lamp Shop

    4. Stroll Piazza Maggiore by Day and by Night

    Piazza Maggiore is the beating heart of Bologna and you'll find people hanging out here day and night. The basilica anchors the square while other dark flat brick buildings add to the atmosphere. 

    Don't forget to seek out the statue of Neptune tucked away down one of the streets leading to the square.
    Weekend in Bologna - Piazza Maggiore

    5. Tour Basilica di San Petronio

    Piazza Maggiore is anchored by Basilica di San Petronio. The church exterior features an unfinished facade with marble creeping just halfway up. 

    Weekend in Bologna - Piazza Maggiore and the Duomo both Day and Night

    The church is free to enter so pop in and have a look around at the spectacular interior full of gothic architecture and decorations. Your legs and shoulders must be covered to enter.

    Interior door to a chapel inside Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna

    6. Admire the Leaning Due Torri

    In the 12th and 13th century, Bologna was a city of skyscrapers and featured almost 180 towers dotting the city. Very few of these towers remain today with the landmark twin towers (the Due Torri) leaning more precariously than the leaning tower of Pisa. 

    On our first trip, we actually climbed Asinelli Tower. At the time, I wrote: "On a sunny day, you can see for miles. The rather grueling climb up the taller of the Due Torri involves a series of progressively narrower wooden staircases and can be a bit vertigo inducing. For us, it was worth it in the end when we emerged and looked out upon the panorama of the city."

    Due Torri in Bologna viewed from below

    That climb is no longer possible. In October 2023, the towers were sealed off since Garisenda Tower was leaning too far. 

    Today, there is a barricade around the towers to capture any falling debris. The city of Bologna believes that the tower is in danger of collapse. Efforts to shore up the tower are expected to take 10 years and cost millions of dollars. 

    As an alternative, you could consider doing the Prendiparte Sky Experience (open on Sundays only with advanced online ticket purchase) or climb the Torre dell'Orologio on Piazza Maggiore.
     
    Make sure to check the Due Torri website for the latest information.

    View from Due Torri taken on a trip prior to the towers being closed at the end of 2023.

    7. Spot Ornate Knobs and Knockers

    My regular readers know that I absolute adore photographing doors. In Bologna, I simply fell in love with the fabulous Italian door knockers

    I love exploring the smaller details that make a place unique. For Bologna, the various knobs and knockers adorning the massive entry doors to the buildings in the town center were charming to behold. 

    These architectural accents are one of the reasons I think Bologna is one of the most romantic places in Italy


    Demon door knocker in BolognaItalian door knocker in Bologna

    8. Photograph Street Art Doors

    While Bologna's knockers are the star of the show, I was also impressed by the street art doors that I found in Bologna. 

    The porticos along Via Petralata had a particularly large concentration. I also spotted a street art representation of Due Torri on a door along Via Galliera. 

    Street art of a person on a bicycle painted on a door in a portico in BolognaStreet art of a girl holding two cartoon rats on a door in a portico in BolognaDoor painted with the Due Torri of Bologna

    Take time to get lost and see what you find on the streets of Bologna that catches your eye.

    SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT:  Did you know that European Capitals of Culture have been designated since 1985 and that Bologna was a European Capital of Culture in 2000? We've visited a number of European Capitals of culture. Here are some recommendations for a culturally themed trip:

    1. Explore 23 ways to do a day in Dublin Ireland (1991)
    2. Spend a weekend exploring Luxembourg with a Luxembourg Card and don't forget to do some day trips from Luxembourg City (1995, 2007)
    3. Spend a day in Stockholm Sweden (1998)
    4. See Rotterdam in winter (2001)
    5. Drink port as old as you are with 3 days in Porto Portugal (2001)
    6. Learn about awesome things to do in Cork City Ireland (2005)
    7. Head to the Baltics and visit Riga Latvia (2014) or Vilnius Lithuania (2009)
    8. Get off the beaten track with a day in Mons Belgium (2015)
    9. Explore Bulgaria’s Roman past with a bus ride from Sofia to Plovdiv for a weekend (2019)

                  9. Check Out Palazzo Isolani

                  Palazzo Isolani is a restored palace. On one end you'll find Le Tre Frecce, three arrows stuck into the wooden portico that dates back to the Middle Ages. 
                  Entrance to Corte Isolani in Bologna
                  Today, Corte Isolani is a passage lined with cafes, bars, restaurants, art shops, and even a hair dresser that still retains the historic character of the building. It's a convenient and atmospheric way to get from Due Torri to Piazza Santo Stefano. 

                  View of Piazza Santo Stefano from a bar in Corte Isolani in Bologna

                  10. Visit Basilica Santo Stefano

                  We found that Basilica Santo Stefano is worth a visit. Admission is free so there is no reason not to stop by. The complex dates back to the 5th century and was built upon and expanded over the ages. 

                  Entering the complex, find yourself surrounded by a cluster of chapels and courtyards featuring ornate brickwork. The old pulpit inside Basilica del Santo Sepolcro was particularly impressive.

                  Old pulpit inside Basilica del Santo SepolcroOne of the chapels at Basilica Santo Stefano in Bologna. This church has a octagonal facade

                  11. Drink Aperitivo

                  Aperitivo time is the best time in Italy. In Bologna, small snack bars put out tables under and near the porticos and serve drinks and snacks. 

                  We sat outside and sipped bitter Campari and soda to wash down complimentary salty crisps and peanuts while doing a bit of people-watching on the street. This is a lovely way to spend the early evening in Bologna.

                  Weekend in Bologna - Aperitivo

                  While you are in the neighborhood after visiting Basilica Santo Stefano, I recommend taking a seat and ordering a negroni at a cafe on Piazza Santo Stefano. This is a great place to watch the sunset with a view of Due Torri.

                  People having aperitivo outside on Piazza Santo Stefano in BolognaClose up of a negroni in Bologna

                  12. Sip a Glass of Regional Italian Wine

                  You'll find plenty of places to grab a drink in Bologna. Exploring the city's porticos, we discovered Vineria Favalli, a laid-back spot perfect for a regional Italian wine tasting. To our delight, they surprised us with crusty bread and rich olive oil, making for a delicious afternoon snack.

                  Chalkboard wine list at Vineria Favalli in Bologna

                  13. Eat Bologna's Signature Dishes

                  The Emilia-Romagna region is a paradise for foodies and given that Bologna is its capital, it's no surprise that we ate well here. 

                  Balanzoni pasta in Bologna

                  We savored classics like tortellini en brodo (broth-filled tortellini) and balanzoni (tortelloni stuffed with ricotta, spinach, parmesan, and mortadella and covered in a butter and sage sauce). 

                  We used TheFork to make reservations at well-rated osterias and restaurants during our trip. I prefer making reservations online to get around the language challenges that might crop up when calling on the phone.

                  Tortellini en brodo in Bologna

                  Don't miss the gelato, especially at Gelateria Gianni, a local favorite since 1976. They offer a decadent selection of flavors, from rich chocolate to refreshing fruits. I particularly enjoyed the "Ora Basta Tutti A Casa" - gianduia gelato with pistachio and gianduia sauces. 

                  Gelato tubs at Gelateria Gianni in Bologna

                  Cup of gelato at Gelateria Gianni in Bologna

                  Try mignons, small tasty pastries that go perfectly with a coffee from a historic cafe. We loved the selection at Impero Caprarie, a modern pasticceria located in historic Palazza del Carrobbio.

                  Plate of mignons at Impero Caprarie in Bologna

                  14. Take a Walk in the Park

                  Parco della Montagnola near Porta Galliera and the Bologna bus station is worth the climb up the stairs to get there and we found it worthy of a quick stroll. We were impressed by the sculptures surrounding the central fountain. 

                  Lion and serpent statue by Diego Sarti in Parco della Montagnola in BolognaMermaid statue by Diego Sarti in Parco della Montagnola in Bologna

                  Some of the scupltures featured fierce lions while others paid tribute to mermaids. The sculptures are by Diego Sarti, a sculptor from Bologna who lived in the 19th and early 20th century.

                  15. Head to the University District and Museo di Palazzo Poggi

                  The University of Bologna is one of the oldest and most famous institutions of higher learning in Europe with students studying here for about 1000 years. Some of the campus buildings are quite impressive. We visited Palazzi Poggi which is home to the Museo di Palazzo Poggi.

                  For 7 EUR, we gained access to this fantastic 16th-century palace adorned with ornate ceilings and frescoes. The building itself contrasted with the museum exhibits which focused on science, medicine, military strategy, and navigation. 

                  Exhibits in Palazzi Poggi at the University of BolognaPuffer fish on display in the museum at Palazzi Poggi in Bologna
                  Some of the exhibits included cabinets of curiosities including an obligatory puffer fish, plates of flora and fauna for block printing, medical oddities, birthing models (and a birthing machine for doctors to pracctice on!), ship models, and exhibits dedicated to nautical and military science.

                  16. Visit the Museum of Zoology

                  Bologna's University District is full of hidden gems. We stopped into the Museum of Zoology, a museum of natural history brimming with taxidermy specimens from around the world. 

                  The collection of birds was particularly extensive. The Museum of Zoology is run by students and free to enter. During the week, the museum is open from 9 am - 1 pm and on weekends from 10 am - 6 pm.

                  Puffer fish at the Museum of Zoology in Bologna

                  17. Explore the Courtyard of Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio

                  While the Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio's stunning library isn't accessible to tourists and the Anatomical Theatre requires a separate ticket, the courtyard itself is free to enter and absolutely worth a visit.  

                  This grand space features porticos adorned with a fascinating collection of sculptures, paintings, and regal crests, offering a glimpse into the building's rich history.

                  Decorated ceiling of the courtyard of Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio

                  18. Seeking out the Town Gates, An Echo of the Past

                  In Medieval times, Bologna was a walled city featuring twelve gates. 10 of the gates remain today along the roads ringing the city as a reminder of the past. 

                  Porta Saragozza in Bologna

                  It can be disconcerting to watch the speedy Italian drivers whiz by these vestiges of Bologna's medieval glory.

                  19. Ride the Tourist Train to Sanctuario della Madonna di San Luca

                  In Bologna, you can experience the world's longest portico, a nearly 3.8 km stretch with 666 arches, by taking the San Luca Express tourist train from Piazza Maggiore to the Sanctuary of San Luca. 

                  San Luca Express Train in Bologna

                  Tickets are 13 EUR for a round trip and can be purchased online in advance or just before boarding. We enjoyed a relaxing train ride uphill and then opted to walk down to Arco del Meloncello, stopping for a coffee at a local counter before catching the train back down to Piazza Maggiore from the Meloncello stop.

                  Arco del Meloncello in Bologna viewed from a crosswalk

                  The Sanctuary itself is beautiful, but we recommend skipping the "San Luca Sky Experience" cupola climb. The platform is small and faces the wrong direction for a good view of Bologna, making the 5 EUR ticket price not worthwhile. 

                  Sanctuario della Madonna di San Luca

                  Overall, while we were happy we went to San Luca, I don't recommend it as a top priority for first-time visitors with limited time.

                  20. Take an Emilia-Romagna Day Trip

                  Even if you are just spending a weekend in Bologna, make time for a day trip. Ferrara, Modena and Parma are all nearby and worth a visit. On our first trip to Bologna, we spent one day exploring Bologna and 2 days away on day trips (making it a proper Emilia-Romagna food holiday). 

                  On our second trip we decided to take our time and explore Bologna in greater depth.

                  Getting to Bologna

                  Bologna is easily accessible as a day trip from Florence. With a train journey taking just 45 minutes, it's a convenient option. You can find flights to Bologna from various airlines, including major national carriers operating within Europe and budget-friendly options. Bologna is one of my favorite Ryanair destinations for a weekend break.

                  Ground transportation at Bologna Airport is super convenient. Take the Marconi Express train for 12.80 EUR one way or 23.30 EUR round trip and get to Bologna Centrale railway station in less than 10 minutes.

                  Where to Stay in Bologna

                  For those seeking a more economical stay outside the city center, the Savoia Regency Hotel offers an Art Deco retreat for around 115 EUR per night. I found that this conference hotel provides a relaxed atmosphere, though reaching Bologna's center requires a taxi ride costing roughly 15-20 EUR which will eat into your savings on accommodation. 

                  Sunrise view from my room at Savoia Regency Hotel in Bologna

                  If you prefer to prioritize convenience, Hotel NH Bologna De La Gare is a good choice. However, this Bologna hotel can cost up to 300 EUR a night. We moved from the Savoia Regency Hotel to Hotel NH after my conference ended. We paid 165 EUR a night thanks to a special promotion.

                  Early check-ins or late checkouts may be an option, but expect to pay about 10 EUR an hour for the privilege.
                  Porta Galliera near Hotel NH Bologna De La Gare

                  Located just a 5-minute walk from the train station and visible from the bus station, Hotel NH Bologna De La Gare offers easy access to transportation hubs and sits right next to Porta Galliera, one of Bologna's historic medieval gates.

                  ***

                  I hope you've enjoyed this introduction to Bologna. If you've got more time, you can definitely fill a week in Bologna. For more ideas of things to do in Bologna, hop on over to Jet-Settera

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                  SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for some other amazing destination ideas in Italy? Why not:
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                  Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 20 Things to do on a Bologna Weekend Break
                  20 Things to do on a Bologna Weekend Break
                  Planning a weekend in Bologna? Discover things to do in Bologna and explore Bologna food whether you are here for 1, 2, or 3 days.
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                  Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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