When you only have one day in Bologna it can be a bit challenging to create the perfect itinerary. The one that will help you with a blend of art and history, breathtaking views, and a pinch of the local cuisine.
That’s why, I’ve created this simple and easy to follow itinerary, keeping it to the point. By following it, you will tick everything like to its name: the fat (food), the red (stunning red buildings and arches), the learned (the oldest university).
Thus, let’s dive into it and see what Bologna has in store for you when you only have one day to spare. However, if you have more time, make sure to check out my 2 days in Bologna itinerary as well.
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Table of Contents
An easy to follow Bologna one day itinerary
Start your day early from Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the town, the perfect starting point for a day out exploring.
See the San Petronio Basilica (opening at 9 AM) – the half white half black building dominating the main square. This is Bologna’s most important church, and you would want to admire both its exterior, and its interior.
It is the 6th largest church in Europe, its construction started in 1390, and it is still unfinished (obvious by its exterior). You shouldn’t miss taking the elevator all the way to the top to its beautiful panoramic terrace.
Another option if you want to learn more about the Basilica, Bologna, and much more, you can always book a Basilica and Panoramic Terrace tour.
Apart from the Basilica, also in Piazza Maggiore, you’ll get to admire Palazzo dei Notai (dating from 1381, built by the city’s notaries guild), the Palazzo d’Accursio (Bologna’s Town Hall), the Palazzo del Podestà and the Palazzo dei Banchi (today occupied by a combination of businesses and apartments).
Walk a bit further and admire the Fountain of Neptune in Piazza del Nettuno.
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Head to the top of the hill to the Basilica of San Luca
Take the San Luca Express and ride all the way to the top of the hill, to the Basilica of San Luca.
Lines are usually long, and we had to wait for around one hour to get 2 seats. That’s why I would suggest coming early and you should check the timetable here before you go.
Another option is to book a tour – you won’t have to worry about the tickets, and you can plan it into your schedule perfectly (you know it will take 2 hours). On top of that, you will get to learn about the Sanctuary of San Luca, the Basilica, and also see Bologna and its stunning architecture along the way. Check it out here!
Choose to come back to town on foot, and continue with our itinerary.
Santuario San Luca, Park Villa Spada, and the Porta Saragozza
As we descended through the Sanctuary of San Luca, we stopped by every now and then to admire the many charming arches and the stunning nature surrounding Bologna.
The portico is 4 kilometers long and boasts almost 600 arches, and it connects the town from Porta Saragozza to the Basilica. However, since most of the path goes downhill, you won’t have o worry about getting tired.
We stopped along the way at the Park Villa Spada – a great combination of stunning architecture ( the beautiful villa), and wonderful nature (the Italian style small garden with terraces decorated with sculptures, and the hectares of natural park spreading towards the river).
Your last stop will be at the Porta Saragozza, dating from the 14th – 14th century, part of the old medieval walls of Bologna.
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Bologna and its food and wine
Once you enter the old town through the gate, you can head directly for a delicious meal or for a food and wine tour.
Needless to say that for a town known for its food, Bologna will have plenty of food tours in-store, but also tons of great osterias and trattorias.
Great food and/or wine tours to choose from:
- 2-hour Gourmet tour – perfect for foodies on the search for all those traditional delicacies of Bologna: mortadella, tortellini, various cold cuts, all served with wine. How else?
- Eat and drink like a local tour – need a local and explore the food capital of Italy also known as La Grassa (the fat one) for good reason.
- Wine tasting tour in one of the oldest inns – learn about the wine-making culture in the region, and taste some of the best wines of Bologna.
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Why should you book a tour online?
You’ll be able to plan your trip up to the minute, won’t have to wander around town looking for the best activity to choose, and it offers the flexibility of canceling or rescheduling the tour at a further time if something happens and you cannot make it.
If however, you simply want to go for lunch in Bologna, try the Osteria dell’Orsa in the University quarter. Just be ready to wait in line outside for a table.
Other amazing options to look into:
Trattoria Anna Maria – tagliatelle al ragu, tortellini burro e salvia, and everything your heart desires from the Bolognese traditional cuisine.
Osteria Broccaindosso – a rustic place where you’ll want to taste the antipasti, sample some of their pasta, but won’t want to leave without a spoon of dessert.
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Sunset over the city – Asinelli Tower
Finish the day above the city with a wonderful sunset view from the tallest point in town: the Asinelli Towers.
Get ready to climb all the hundreds of wooden stairs – the view from the above will be for sure worth it.
The ticket price is 5 EUR and you will need to go to Piazza Maggiore to get it. However, if you choose to buy the Bologna Welcome Card for the day, entrance will be free.
Another thing worth knowing is that the last entrance is at 6 PM, and there are 2-time slots per hour if you want to go earlier (at 00 and at 15).
Another option worth considering, if you want to visit the tower earlier and want to mix it up with a food tour, is booking this tour right here. You will have entrance to the Asinelli Tower and a food tasting experience included in the price.
Alternative attractions and activities if you want to stay in town
Museo Civico Archeologico – hosted in the 15th century Palazzo Galvani, this is perfect for history lovers, hosting one of the most important archaeological collections in Italy. The museum is closed on Tuesdays, and a ticket costs EUR.
Archiginnasio of Bologna (Biblioteca comunale dell’Archiginnasio) – an impressive building with plenty of murals to observe along its arches. While the library is open to the public based on an admissions card, you can visit the Palace for a tax of only 3 EUR.
Palazzo Albergati – currently hosting a Monet exhibition.
Go to the local market – a love a stroll through the local markets wherever I go, but even more in Italy. Get to see how the locals spend their weekends, taste some delicious local produce, and interact with people. That’s the best way to take the pulse of a place.
Piazza Santo Stefano flea market – another great way to spend some hours, roaming through history, and interacting with locals. You’ll find some great souvenirs or something that will remind you forever of this day spent in Bologna.
When to visit Bologna
We’ve visited in late February and with the right clothing, I think that would be the perfect time to visit Bologna. However, if you want to have more sun and see the trees in bloom (some of them were already), I would suggest planning your escape for early March.
On the other hand, I also think that seeing Bologna during the fall months would be as charming. Nature’s colors will blend in perfectly with the red city anywhere from late September to early November.
What else you should know
GETTING TO BOLOGNA
No matter if you choose to make Bologna your destination for a day or more, you will most likely get here by plane or train.
If Bologna is the first stop of your Northern Italy itinerary, you’ll be landing at the Bologna Airport. From here, you can get to the city by:
- Shuttle bus (purchase the tickets online here) – that will leave you either at the train station or in the city center;
- Marconi Express Monorail Train – will take you to the central station in only 7 minutes. The cost of a full ticket is 8.70 EUR, round-trip – 16 EUR and you can purchase the ticket at the departure point.
- Public bus – Take the bus no. 54 from the airport and change the bus with the number 81 or 91 bus at the “Birra” stop. Buy the ticket from the shop at the airport (Carrefour Express) or directly on the bus. We chose this option without knowing that there will be a public transportation strike, so we had to wait over one hour for the connection. Thus, especially if you arrive in the evening, choose another transfer option in order to be safe.
- Take a taxi from the airport
- Book a private transfer
If, on the other hand, you choose to see Bologna as a day trip from another destination, here are your options of getting to town:
- By train – try to book in advance if you want to get the best train ticket price, especially when you are traveling from far away. Use omio.com or book a Eurail pass if you plan to travel around Italy by train. Both options will save you money and be useful. Another option is to check Italia rail – an aggregator that will show you all the trains available at the best price.
- By bus – check Flixbus or omio.com for the best options.
TRY SOME LOCAL FOOD
I think I’ve mentioned it already, but Bologna is Italy’s food capital. And if you love Italian food as much as I do, expect the best from this small town in Northern Italy.
Don’t leave without trying: mortadella, tortellini in brodo (in soup), prosciutto, Parmigiano Regiano, balsamic vinegar di Modena, pasta with bolognese sauce, lasagne. And this list could go on and on.
Just make sure to plan your itinerary around the times’ restaurants are open. They are usually close after 3 PM and open only for dinner at around 7 PM. In between, you will be left with the supermarkets (those that don’t close as well) and some street food (panini and other delicious stuff).
One thing is sure when it comes to Bologna – when you only have one day make sure you’ll start your day early and make the best out of it!
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