I had only been once in the past in Bologna in Italy, only passing from the airport to the train station, and I wasn’t really impressed. That’s why when we found the cheapest tickets to Italy, for 2 days in Bologna, I wasn’t expecting much.
Little needs to be said that the first few hours from landing, the city seemed to work hard to prove me right.
The public transportation was on strike, thus we waited for almost one hour on different bus stops without any luck. It was a cold and windy February night for us to find out that there’s no Uber in Bologna.
Moreover, we could not find any taxi stop, so we were somehow left with the public transportation option. And fast, because it was already past 9 PM.
When finally we decided to walk the 20 minutes to the hotel, the bus finally arrived. And it was full! Of course.
Come prepared and read the things to know when traveling to Italy for the first time
Keep on reading because it gets better, I promise!
During our 2 days in Bologna, the city surprised me and I will answer all the questions I know you have because I also had them before going:
- is Bologna worth visiting,
- how many days should you spend in Bologna,
- what to see in bologna in 2 days,
- non-touristy things to do in Bologna,
- what to eat in Bologna and where to do it,
- where to stay in Bologna,
- our 2 days Bologna itinerary,
- day trips from Bologna.
Bologna is often overlooked mainly because of its good position only 1 hour away by fast train to the art-infused Florence, 1 hour and a half from Romeo and Juliet’s Verona, or 2 hours from the most romantic town on the water, Venice. Also, somehow many other Italian important cities and landmarks step in front of Bologna, but I think the town needs a chance!
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2 days in Bologna – let yourself surprised
Day 1 – Things to see in Bologna on your first day
Saturday morning, we woke up early, had a delicious Italian breakfast, and headed to town. So what are the things to do in Bologna Italy in 1 day and is that enough to spent in Bologna?
The first thing I noticed and impressed me were all the arches the buildings had. Neverending. Picture perfect heaven.
We reached the Torri Asinelli (Two Towers) just before it opened, some minutes before 9 AM.
The two towers are truly impressive, and if you want to take the perfect picture, without the crowds in the background, make sure to get there early. Later on, the streets get so crowded and lively that it will be impossible to shoot that picture you know you want.
Climb the Asinelli Tower and admire the leaning Garisenda Tower
Only a few steps from the main square (Piazza Maggiore), the Asinelli Tower is the tallest between the 2 you will see here. And it is the one you will be allowed to climb. The leaning tower of Bologna, the Garisenda Tower, is closed to the public.
We thought the view from the top must be amazing, thus we decided to go up!
Just bear in mind that the tickets can be bought from BolognaWelcome in Piazza Maggiore, and not from the tower.
If however, you don’t want to wait in line for any of the tickets, the Bologna Welcome Card is the perfect solution!
You can purchase it online, offering you the option of skipping the line for some of the attractions, and it is valid for all of the main touristic attractions in Bologna. The perfect solution for your 2 days in Bologna itinerary, right?
Getting back to the tower, once we bought the ticket, we came back and were lucky to get up with the second group to enter the tower, meaning it was still ok.
I won’t lie to you, the climb was tough! The tower has 97 m, hundreds of steep wooden stairs, and it is hard to believe it is dating from somewhere before 1200.
But the climb is totally worth it! The view from the top is breathtaking and the whole city, with the red stone buildings and colorful walls, is easily seen from here.
Piazza Maggiore and the San Petronio Basilica
Since the main square (Piazza Maggiore) is so close to the Two Towers (Due Torri), this was our next stop, not before we stopped by to admire and take hundreds of pictures with the cherry trees in bloom.
Piazza Maggiore is exactly what you are expecting from an Italian main square. Imposing buildings, people rushing around, terraces packed where everyone stops by for aperitivo or a coffee, and tens of galleries with shops.
Impossible to miss is the San Petronio Basilica, the half white half black building that will catch your eye as soon as you enter the square. The building is impressive but even nicer is the terrace from where we got another beautiful panoramic view over Bologna.
San Petronio Basilica panoramic view terrace costs 3 EUR to get to the top, but be careful it can get windy! My skirt was a bit too short and I couldn’t enjoy the terrace to the fullest haha.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 7:45am-1:30pm and 3pm-6:30pm; Saturday and Sunday 7:45am-1:30pm and 2:30pm-6:30pm
Panoramic terrace (54 meters in height) – entrance on the side Piazza Galvani: Monday-Thursday: 10am-1pm, 3pm-6pm; Friday-Sunday: 10am-1pm, 2:30pm-6:30pm
Other churches to visit in Bologna:
- The Basilica di Santo Stefano – or the seven churches dating back to the Longobard times
- The Basilica San Domenico – for the history and art passionates
Fountain of Neptune (Piazza del Nettuno)
Just a few steps away from Piazza Maggiore, we’ve encountered Neptune, sitting gracefully in his fountain.
Built between 1563 and 1567 by the Flemish sculpturer Jean de Boulogne, the statue sits today between the municipal building and Sala Borsa which hosts the municipal library on one side, and the Palazzo Re Enzo which hosts exhibitions and other events on the other.
(Window) Shopping in Bologna on via Independenza
Yes yes, we weren’t there for the shopping, but who can stop two girls from window shopping?
All our friends were there: from Hermes to Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and more.
If you meet them on via Independenza, make sure to tell them hi from us. Of course, the main shopping street in Bologna is home to more than luxury brands and it is where you will find low-cost clothes shops, fast food places, and other small shops.
Tip: if you love flowers as much as I do, don’t shy away from paying a visit to Frida’s, the most beautiful flower shop in Bologna.
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Get lost in a manner of speaking of course because it would be terribly hard to get lost in Bologna since the city center is not that big after all. We just left yourself wander around and got to see a lot of pretty colorful buildings, many churches (we are in Italy after all) and towers.
It is said that Bologna used to have around 180 towers (only around 100 by some accounts), with only around 20 left today.
We almost spent one day just walking around, because how else would you get the real feel of a town?
Just by going to those places further away from the city center you will find the trattorias where Italians eat, the cafeterias where kids gather after school, the coffee places where ladies meet up after their weekly appointment at the hairdresser.
On our stroll, we passed by one of the main things you should not miss in your 2 days in Bologna or even 3 days in Bologna: the secret window on via Piella on the Reno canal.
The place was unfortunately under renovations and did not look as expected. But maybe you’ll have more luck than us!
We stopped by on a bench in a small park, sat in the sun and took it all in.
Friends meeting for coffee and discussing daily problems at a small and fancy coffee place on the corner, couples walking their kids wearing their best suits making me imagine they had some meal planned afterward with their larger family (as Italians usually do), old couples holding hands just going along with their normal lives, this little old lady with her fancy chair and a newspaper in hand reading it under the warm Spring sun.
That’s what I love most about Italy, and that’s why I go back over and over again.
Archiginnasio Library (Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio)
Right in the heart of Bologna, there’s this amazing place that will feel like Heaven for book lovers. And not only.
The building is both a public library and a museum.
The palace is dating from the 1500s and throughout the years it hosted the Law and Arts University, but since the 1800s it has been transformed into a library. The building was damaged in 1944 by a bomb and has been rebuilt.
Stepping inside feels like stepping in another era and world. Everything is so impressive, knowing exactly where you are due to the many arches in the interior garden. As you go even deeper in the palazzo it is incredible to see that students have this place to study inside.
Since we’re at the Library topic, and if you love books and bookshops as much as I do, another place worth seeing in Bologna is the Salaborsa Library.
Even if you only spend 15 minutes here and get lost in between bookshelves and arches, these will be 15 minutes well spent during your 2 days in Bologna.
Address: Piazza del Nettuno, 3, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy
Day 2 – Things to see in Bologna on your second day
The Botanical garden of Bologna
We were initially planning on taking the train on the second day of our stay in Bologna and to choose from the many perfect day trips from Bologna, running to some small village somewhere close.
But since plans sometimes change, we decided otherwise while walking towards Bologna’s train station. And the one place that changed everything was the Botanical garden of Bologna.
One of the oldest in Italy found in the University area, the garden is not very large, but still hosting lots of different plants and flowers.
We spent the morning in the park, listening to the birds singing in the blooming trees. Even though the place is close to the road, you won’t hear much but the birds singing.
Basilica and Sanctuary of San Luca
And since we decided on staying the whole two days in Bologna, what else was there left to do?
On Saturday we had tried to take the San Luca Express up on the hills, to the Basilica of San Luca, but did not manage because the line was so big and we could not fit into the bus. Since there was only one other bus going up, and since it was getting darker, we decided to leave it for Sunday.
Tip: if you get the Bologna Welcome Plus card, you won’t have to wait in line and won’t have to pay the 10 EUR tax
It turned out taking the bus on Sunday at around 11 AM was a good idea, because we could enjoy the views and come back all the way to Bologna city center on foot.
Of course, one can choose to climb on foot, while admiring the almost 4 kilometers portico, summing up almost 600 arches. Or you can do it the other way around, as we did.
The Basilica of San Luca is beautifully perched on the top of the hill, surrounded by beautiful nature that can be observed from the dome’s terrace. (another great experience included in the Bologna Welcome Plus card)
The long sanctuary basically connects the city (all the way from Porta Saragozza) to the basilica and was initially built to offer shelter for the yearly religious processions.
Park Villa Spada and Villa Delle Rose
Step outside od the normal road, who knows what you might find?
And that’s what we did when walking from the Basilica of San Luca towards Bologna.
I must admit I hadn’t read about this place anywhere and we came across it totally by chance, but I loved how quiet the area is, with a big garden behind and the perfect spot for beautiful pictures.
Walking just a few steps down the road, we found another charming surprise: Villa Spada.
Even though when we got there the museum was closed, the garden still looks impressive and is worth paying the visit. The villa is also surrounded by a huge park, where you will feel like getting lost in the woods.
We climbed the hills, wandered around, stopped by the villa to take some dreamy pictures and continued our descent towards Bologna.
I think it’s not hard to assume this area is one of the best of the city (or at least that was my impression) judging by the beautiful houses perfectly located in a quiet area, filled with gardens, blooming trees, and very close to the hills.
Plenty of old-style villas, but also new style Italian houses.
I don’t know how other people are, but we always end up checking out the prices of houses, especially in Italy, but when they look like this who can blame me?
One day in Bologna Itinerary
What would I have done if I would have had only one day in Bologna?
That would be hard because I would have wanted to spend even more than 2 days in Bologna, thus having to choose out of the best things to see in Bologna and narrow it down to the things to do in Bologna Italy in 1 day is hard.
But let’s see how a one day in Bologna itinerary would look like:
- Start from Piazza Maggiore and after visiting the San Petronio Basilica, take the San Luca Express all the way up to Basilica of San Luca
- Walk back down to Bologna’s center through the Santuario San Luca
- Stop by and grab a bite to eat in the Quadrilatero
- Climb the Assinelli Tower just in time for sunset over Bologna
Other things to see in Bologna if you have more time
When you have more than just one day in Bologna or 2 days in Bologna, the town has so much to offer.
And this is what I would add to the trip for a 3rd day spend in Italy’s red town:
- Take a food tour: not only for the foodies but also for everyone in love with Italian cuisine. During a food tour, you will taste not only the local traditional dishes but also Italian wines.
- Learn to make pasta at a pasta cooking class
- Mercato dell’ Erbe – head to the local market early in the morning and buy some of the freshest fruit, vegetables, cheese, and salumeria.
- Eat gelato at one of the best gelato places in Bologna: Cremeria Cavour and Cremeria Santo Stefano. Just don’t go on a Monday because both are closed.
Day trips from Bologna
Bologna is perfectly located in Northern Italy close to so many incredible Italian gems.
Whether you choose to include Bologna on your Italy itinerary, or you spend 2 days in Bologna and allocate one other to take one of the loveliest day trips from Bologna, it is totally ut to your schedule and budget.
One thing is sure, when it comes to day trips from Bologna, the palette is wide.
- Verona – the town of Romeo and Juliet, the Verona Arena filled by various national and international artists, colorful Piazza Bra, the historic Castel Vecchio, and so much more.
- Modena – it may be that Modena is not such a famous Italian destination, but if you love Ferrari, balsamic vinegar, beautiful Italian villas, and impressive palazzos Modena is the place for you.
- Parma – the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Parma is the parma ham of course. Add the traditional cheese they make here (Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese) and I’m sure I convinced you.
- Ravenna – an art and history lover’s dream, filled with mosaics and 8 UNESCO World Heritage sights.
- Florence – need I say more?
- Venice – may be the most romantic town in the world.
- Brisighella – colorful and authentic Italian Brisighella is where we were planning to escape for our Bologna day trip, but I’ll just have to go back for that.
- San Marino – a country within a country, another romantic destination just a few hours away from Bologna.
Where to stay for two days in Bologna?
Of course, there are plenty of options when it comes to staying in Bologna for two days or more.
Since there weren’t any stairs in the city (an inside joke because we always end up choosing a hotel/apartment on the hill for the view and it takes forever to reach it every day after having walked for miles), we decided not to stay in the heart of the city, but still walking distance from it.
At the end of the day, almost anywhere you choose to stay in Bologna you will be within walking distance from the city center.
But here are some options for different budgets and distances from the city center:
Villa Benni B&B – I had no idea this place existed and we passed by it while coming down from the San Luca Basilica, stopped by the doors and drooled haha. The place is a castle, with a huge garden, animals and all that. Who wouldn’t want to stay here?
Boutique Hotel Liberty 1904 – just a few steps outside of the city center, away from the crowded streets, this is the hotel we chose to stay in.
It took us roughly 20 minutes on foot through the many arches from the hotel to Piazza Maggiore, which is not much if you take into consideration the price.
The hotel is clean, with small rooms and not an amazing view, but the breakfast is delicious and we woke up every day with the smell of fresh warm croissants, looking forward to going down and eat some with a strong Italian cappuccino.
Hotel Metropolitan – perfectly set in the center of Bologna, with a rooftop terrace and lovely simple rooms, this is a good option if you are looking to stay close to all the main attractions of Bologna.
Hotel Touring – with a beautiful rooftop terrace, a Summer jacuzzi from where you can admire Bologna’s skyline after a full day of exploration, what more can you ask from the perfect place to stay in Bologna?
We_Bologna – if you are looking for cheaper accommodation for your 2 days in Bologna escape, this hostel is the perfect stop.
Where to eat in Bologna and must-try food
Known for its cuisine, the best tagliatelle al ragu, mortadella and tortellini in brodo, Bologna is THE destination for foodies.
Even so, since we were always on the run, we just had a few meals, but we made those count.
Even when we were too tired to stay out and eat dinner and took something from Coop (a local supermarket) the food was delicious and something you can find tasting so heavenly only in Italy.
But if you have more time, here are the places you shouldn’t miss.
Osteria dell’Orsa – in the University area, with the kitchen open all day long until late in the night, they don’t take reservations and are always packed with people.
We ate here on Saturday evening and were lucky to wait only around 5 minutes outside to be seated, but if you are in a larger group you could wait up to 45 min – 1 hour.
They seat you at tables together, the food is delicious and traditional, and prices are ok. Don’t expect luxury or anything, just a true Italian experience.
I Portici Ristorante – with a Michelin star, I was recommended this restaurant because of its delicious pasta. Book a table here for a special night in town.
La Botegga di Franco – just look at the pictures on their site and you will drool. Apart from that, the garden is incredibly romantic, perfect for a lunch in a sunny Spring or Summer day.
Osteria Bottega – another Michelin awarded restaurant to try when you have more time in Bologna.
Spaccanapoli – the best Napoletan pizza in Bologna.
Other Italy Travel Resources
- Want to experience something different? Why not visit one of my 11 less known Italian small towns?
- Heading South and want to plan your perfect vacation? Check out my one week South Italy itinerary, and make sure you don’t leave out Puglia or the Amalfi Coast.
- Take the perfect pictures for your forever memories in these Instagram spots in Positano.
- Have less time? See Rome in one day or spend one day in Genoa.
- What’s one of the most beautiful destinations in Italy? Cinque Terre must be high on the list, and you must see it no matter if you choose to do so on a day trip from Genoa or plan a trip on itself.
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