Even though many might overlook Bologna when planning a trip to Italy, I’ll try to convince you that Italy’s food capital makes for the best base camp when you want to see Northern Italy. You can take some great day trips from Bologna, and get to see the most famous Italian town. On the other hand, there are plenty of hidden gems as well to be explored.
For a shorter vacation, you can choose to spend one day or two days in Bologna, and mix in at least 1 or 2-day trips outside of town.
However, if you want to plan for a longer Northern Italy itinerary, a great option is to book your whole stay in Bologna and explore some of these 25 trips outside of town.
At the heart of Emilia Romagna, its location makes destinations in Veneto, Tuscany, Lombardy, and beyond easily accessible by car or by train.
Come here to explore the culinary delights of Italy, but also places packed with history. Move from the sea to the mountains, and on narrow streets.
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Getting around for your day trip
Almost all of the places I’ve chosen are reached by train or by car in more or less 2 hours. Some are a bit further and some are just 30 minutes away, but all must be considered when you have more time in Italy.
Most of these destinations can be easily reached by the regional train. This option is usually the cheapest and the tickets can be acquired from the train station.
Don’t forget to validate your ticket before stepping on the train. The validation machines are on the platform, and if you fail to validate it, you will be fined.
If, however, you are looking into some of the further away destinations, you’ll want to look for fast trains. Tickets for these trains are usually cheaper when acquired way in advance. That’s why I recommend booking your tickets online on omio.com or ItaliaRail.com. Both are price aggregators that will show you the best route and prices.
Another great option when you plan for more day trips by train is to book a Eurail pass. The options are available for 3, 4, 5, 6, or 8 travel days and you can take as many trains as you want.
Read also: 30+ Italian gifts for Italy lovers
Renting a car in Italy is advisable when you want to see some destinations hard to access by train. I always advise booking in advance if you want to find the best price.
I always use Skyscanner.com to find the best prices and deals. Another great option available in Italy is Discover Cars.
Where to stay in Bologna
If you set your base in Bologna, you’ll want to come back to a comfortable bed, delicious breakfast, and cozy room to rest in.
Another thing worth considering is the location of the hotel when you plan to travel by train. If you choose to rent a car, you’ll want a place that would offer free parking or a spot at a reasonable price.
Other things I take into consideration when I look for a hotel in Italy: free wifi, beautiful views from the room, great reviews.
Thus, here are some great options to take into account for Bologna:
Luxury: Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni– only 8 minutes away from the train station by public transportation, and 15 minutes on foot, this 5* hotel is set in an 18th-century palace and won’t disappoint. Only a few steps away from the main square of Bologna, the hotel has a guarded garage and valet available. Guests staying here found the beds and pillows super comfortable, and the views from some of the rooms are stunning.
Mid-Range: Boutique Hotel Liberty 1904 – a 15 minutes bus ride to Central Station, and only a few steps away from Bologna’s University quarter, this is where we stayed during our visit to Bologna. A simple hotel, with a delicious breakfast, they offer parking and internet access.
Low cost: Suite Hotel Elite – great location not far from Bologna’s city center and the train station, offering a cheap parking option and free garage, and spacious and clean rooms.
The complete list of the best day trips from Bologna
That is a map with the destinations I’ve considered as day trips from Bologna at a glance. You can see they are scattered in a big part of Northern Italy.
I’ve split them not by region, but by size and how famous they are to the normal travelers to Italy.
Famous well-known towns
Distance and time to get there: around 150 km – 1h 45 by car // 50 minutes by fast train / 1 h 30 by regional train // 2 h by bus. Check out connections here!
Famous for Romeo and Juliet, but also for its imposing arena that draws many people who attend music concerts and shows here.
Verona is another ofter overseen Italian destinations, that’s totally worth at least a one day visit.
Start from Piazza Bra where you can drink a strong coffee with the arena in front of your eyes and the colorful buildings on the other side. Stroll through the streets and climb the Torre dei Lamberti to take over the town from above, get lost through the many stalls filled with handmade local produce in Piazza delle Erbe, and don’t leave without seeing Juliet’s balcony.
Once you’re done with the center, walk across the Ponte Pietra and climb the hill from where you will get another stunning view over the city. Take the funicular to Piazzale Castel San Pietro, and when you come back go and visit Castelvecchio.
Distance and time to get there: 150 km by car – 1h 45 by car // 1 h 30 minutes by fast train / 2 h 05 by regional train // 1 h 40 by bus. Check out connections here!
Venice is one of those destinations that need to be on anyone’s list. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I would always come back and rediscover the city on the canals.
Spend the time getting lost on the many canals (allow yourself to step away from the touristic paths, and step into the real Venice), wake up early and visit the Dodge’s Palace, take a picture on the Ponte dei Sospini, enter San Marco Basilica, go at Libreria Acqua Alta, spend a fortune on a gondola ride, take home a painted carnival mask as a souvenir, and do not miss the most colorful village with its Instagram perfect houses – Burano.
Read next: 2 days in Venice – the ultimate itinerary!
Distance and time to get there: 220 km by car – 2h 40 by car // 1 h 15 minutes by fast train / 2 h 55 by regional train // 2 h 30 by bus. Check out connections here!
I must admit I’m guilty of never having visited Milan even though I’ve passed through its train station so many times. This being said, only a short train ride (if you choose the fast train) this makes for the perfect day trip from Bologna.
Milan is fashion’s capital, but also home to the impressive Milan Cathedral that shouldn’t be skipped by anyone visiting the town. Head over to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II for some window shopping or just for a perfect Instagram picture in Italy.
Don’t skip the Castello Sforzesco – a 15th-century castle with extensive gardens to be discovered especially on a spring or summer day. For the art passionate, the Milan Archaeology Museum and the Pinacoteca di Brera would complete a perfect day in Milan.
End your day with a meal and an ice cream along the Naviglio Grande, or go on an evening bike tour with aperitivo in Navigli, and hop on the train back to Bologna.
Distance and time to get there: 108 km by car – 1 h 30 by car // 40 minutes by fast train / 2 h by regional train // 1 h 30 by bus. Check out connections here!
One of the most romantic destinations in Italy, Florence is in fact not such a big town. However, it has plenty of things to do and see on a day trip, and it won’t disappoint.
Learn about art at the Ufizzi Gallery (just make sure to book your ticket in advance, online), see the Florence Duomo and climb up the cupola for one of the best views over the city (go for a priority ticket here as well), see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery, and just stroll along the Ponte Vecchio.
Eat a bistecca all Fiorentina and taste some delicious Tuscan wine at one of the many osterias in town, hidden on the cobblestone narrow streets around the center area.
Read next: One day in Florence itinerary
Distance and time to get there: 134 km by car – 1 h 40 by car
Even though this small town is practically not part of Italy, it sure is a fairytale place worth visiting from Bologna.
The Republic of San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world, that is actually totally independent from Italy. Another interesting fact worth knowing is that San Marino is one of only 3 other countries surrounded completely by another county (Italy in this case).
It has only 16 square kilometers, and even though it is not part of the European Union it uses the euro currency.
The city is placed on top of a mountain and has really picturesque streets and views over the Adriatic Sea (on a clear day).
See the fortress perched on the top of a hill, with its 2 towers that can be visited by tourists. See the Private Palace, hosting the parliament, and simply stroll through the charming streets of this petite town.
Distance and time to get there: 49 km by car – 45 min by car // 30 minutes by fast train / 55 min by regional train Check out connections here!
Little known by many, Ferrara is actually a charming town that resembles a bit to Bologna. Impressive red buildings, towers, this is a must-stop while in Emilia Romagna.
The Estense Castello was once the house of the Este family who ruled Ferrara between the 12th and 15th centuries, stands tall today in the center of town.
Next, head over to the main piazza of Ferrara: the Pizza Trento. Admire the San Giorgio Cathedral, and the City Hall. Wander around this area and indulge in some delicious local sweets.
Don’t leave before seeing the walls of the city, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage, and learn about Ferrara’s history. A city highlights walking tour is always a great way to get to know the city and enrich your knowledge with something new.
Distance and time to get there: 100 km by car – 1 h 15 min by car // 45 minutes by fast train / 1 h by regional train Check out connections here!
To tell you the truth, whenever I hear Parma I think about that delicious prosciutto they are so famous for. But apart from the incredible food, Parma is a great destination for a day trip from Bologna.
Stop at the National Gallery and admire works by da Vinci, Barbieri, van Dyck, and many others. Walk around the Parma Cathedral dating from the 11th century, visit the octagonal Baptistery in the center of Parma, and go on a food and wine tour.
Plan a visit to a ham factory or go to a parmesan, ham, and vinegar factory and learn about the process of making all these delicious local products.
As you can see, Parma, like Bologna, is a perfect destination for foodies.
Distance and time to get there: 48 km by car – 50 min by car // 17 minutes by fast train / 30 minutes by regional train Check out connections here!
Perhaps known only for the famous balsamic vinegar and for sport car fans, since it is the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari. However, Modena is much more than that, with its large squares and the cathedral in the Piazza Grande and Ghirlandina Tower listed as UNESCO Wolrd Heritage sites.
See all the gems of Modena and find out more about some of its historic buildings and piazzas on a 2-hour walking tour.
A must-have experience in Modena is balsamic vinegar tasting at a local producer, learn how to pair it with fresh fruit or local cheese and wine.
Distance and time to get there: 119 km by car – 1h 30 min by car // 1 h by fast train / 1 h 36 minutes by regional train // 2 h by bus Check out connections here!
For a few years, Padua for me was a distant place I would call daily. And that was because the warehouse of the company I was working for was set there and I was managing their orders.
Little did I know that this town I was contacting daily held so many beautiful gems worth visiting on a day trip from Bologna. Because of its wealth and history, Padua drew some of the greatest artists of the 14th century (Giotto, Giovanni, Donatello) that left the city a living work of art.
Visit the Basilica di Sant’Antonio filled with memorable works of art, get lost in the Piazza dei Signori at the heart of Padua packed with lively cafes and restaurants, admire the Pallazzo della Ragione – Europe’s largest medieval hall.
Dream about long-ago times by visiting the Villa Pisani with its 100 rooms, that once belonged to Napoleon.
If you’re spritz Aperol fan, go on a guided spritz walk and discover the city together with some of the best drinks in town. Another tour worth looking into especially made for the foodie in you is the 2-hour food markets tour of Padoa. Visit the fruit and vegetable markets in Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza delle Frutta, sample some of the delicious food, and enjoy a glass of Prosecco.
If you want to spend more time in Padua, I would definitely consider a boat cruise from Padua to Venice, passing along more than 50 Venetian villas and many charming small villages on the Brenta River.
Small Italian villages worth seeing on a day trip from Bologna
If you’ve been already to the more famous big Italian towns or want to skip the crowds, the following villages are perfect for your trip.
There might not be many museums or classic tourist attractions, but you can enjoy real Italian life and vibe.
Distance and time to get there: 72 km by car – 1h by car // between 1 and 2 h by train with one change
Honestly, this was one place I was planning to see on my weekend in Bologna. I was charmed by the colorful buildings and the small village vibe I got from the pictures I saw online.
Since plans don’t always turn out as we made them at home, I’m not sad I couldn’t make it, because I’ve seen most of Bologna. However, I would for sure plan a trip to Brisighella on my next vacation in the area.
The town’s up the hills and has a fortified castle, a clock tower, and a sanctuary making it appealing. Here you’ll also find a rich authentic food scene and a colorful beautiful city center.
This is mainly a top attraction for those into sports cars – aka Ferrari. It is a 46-minute drive from Bologna, but most people go there on an organized tour.
They usually blend in together a visit to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, the new Pagani Museum Factory, and the new Lamborghini Museum and factory. Here is a great option with a transfer from Bologna.
If you choose to drive yourself there, you can book your ticket for the Ferrari Museum and an F1 Simulator here.
PESCHIERA DEL GARDA
Distance and time to get there: 157 km by car – 1h 45 minutes by car // 1 h 15 min by fast train / 1 h 50 minutes by regional train (with one change) Check out connections here!
Come to this little town by the Lake Garda for a tranquil day in nature. The natural views here are stunning, and you can always book a boat and go to Riva del Garda in the Italian Alps, or even go by car and see the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona – a monastery built on the edge of a mountain.
Or you can go on a motorcycling tour on Strada della Forra, perfectly built into the cliffs of Lake Garda.
Distance and time to get there: 60 km by car – 46 minutes by car // 28 min by fast train / 40 minutes by regional train Check out connections here!
Even though this medieval town had lots of interest in its city center, many come here for the ceramics.
Before heading to the ceramics museum, see the Faenza Cathedral, the Portico of Lords, the clock tower, the Piazza del Popolo, Molinella Square, and via Cavour for its mix of eclectic with baroque style palaces.
Distance and time to get there: 156 km by car – 1 h 48 minutes by car // 1h 15 min by fast train / 2 h by regional train Check out connections here!
Piacenza is the northernmost town in Emilia Romagna and is a small town worth giving a try.
Apart from enjoying its authentic vibe, visit the Palazzo Farnese and its museum – built in the 14th century by the lords of Milan. Don’t leave without seeing the 100 churches – of course, the number is not that high today, but you will still get a lot of options to see in Piacenza.
Via Francigena is the main street you will want to explore here – packed with the main sights of the city.
Distance and time to get there: 153 km by car – 1 h 48 minutes by car // 1h 40 min by fast train Check out connections here!
Parco Querini, the Monte Berico church, Antonio Pigafetta’s house – Magellan’s assistant who kept a journal of its travels, are only a few of the things you can do and see in Vicenza.
Come here for the genuine Italian atmosphere, no matter if you go on a wine tour, a bike tour, or just sit back with a cup of coffee in one of the piazzas.
Distance and time to get there: 118 km by car – 1 h 20 minutes by car // 53 min by fast train // 1 h 30 min by regional train Check out connections here!
Rimini is a famous seaside destination, however, there are plenty of other things to do and see on a day trip from Bologna.
The Tiberius Bridge lays here for the past 2000 years and walking over it would take you back in time. For the history passionate, Rimini is the town where you will see many Roman well-preserved ruins.
And if you’re here just to relax, drink a coffee in Piazza Cavour and spend some time on the beach with a good book in hand.
THE PO DELTA AND REGIONAL PARK AND COMACCHIO
Distance and time to get there: 134 km by car – 1 h 45 minutes by car // 53 min by fast train // 1 h 30 min by regional train Check out connections here!
This is a perfect day trip that can be transformed into a 2-days escape to nature. Start from Comacchio, also known as Little Venice with its canals, bridges, and colorful houses. Stop by at the Pickling Factory where you will learn about how the local people have lived out of eels in the past.
Take a boat trip to the Island of Love – the last piece of land of the marsh separating the Po river from the sea. Explore Cervia and its salt production, if you’re lucky you will even see some flamingos.
No matter what you choose to do in this natural habitat, make sure to explore the lagoons by boat.
Distance and time to get there: 72 km by car – 1 h 20 minutes by car // 1 h 10 min by regional train Check out connections here!
Staying at the crossroads of Reggio Emilia and Tuscany, this small village is known for its healing hot springs. The train trip from Bologna to Porretta Terme is a scenic one, crossing through the Apennines and offering views to remember.
Come on a Saturday for the market day and lose yourself through the many stalls on display, head to the forest for a hike in nature, or simply go to a hot spring resort.
Distance and time to get there: 82 km by car – 1 h by car // 1 h 10 min by regional train Check out connections here!
With an important historic background, Ravenna has an excess of historic buildings and UNESCO World Heritage sights to be explored patiently.
The Baptistery of Neon which sits today on the site of a Roman Bath is an important religious place worth seeing. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Basilica of San Vitale, the impressive bell tower of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, are just a few of the other sights that will keep you busy on your day trip to Ravenna.
Don’t leave without visiting the Museo Nazionale Ravenna or going on a tour to see the best mosaics in town. And if you want to relax a bit and haven’t been to the beach yet, head over to the marina of Ravenna.
Distance and time to get there: 34 km by car – 40 min by car
Savigno is known as the capital of the truffles of Italy, and might not offer much more, but you can stop by on your way in the region.
Distance and time to get there: 244 km by car – 2 h 30 min by car // 2 h 15 min by fast train
Another destination many pass through without giving it a chance. And I must admit I’ve been one of the many and had no idea about how beautiful Bergamo was until some of my best friends told me they are going to Milan only to see Bergamo again.
If you’re looking for a more romantic destination for a day trip from Bologna, perched on hills, this walled city filled with cobbler stone streets might be just the destination for you.
Distance and time to get there: 112 km by car – 1 h 30 min by car // 1 h 45 min by regional train (with one change) Check out connections here!
Stunning views from across the bridge of Piazza Sordello, the beautiful Basilica din Sant’Andrea with its triumphant tower overlooking the city, the Palazzo Te built almost 500 years ago, and the Ducal Palace, are only a few of the things worth seeing in Mantua.
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