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 two 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 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! Bologna 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,
- main Bologna tourist attractions,
- non-touristy things to do in Bologna
- our 2 days Bologna itinerary
Bologna is often overlooked mainly because 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!
Two days in surprising Bologna
Saturday morning, we woke up early, had a delicious Italian breakfast, and headed to town. So what can one do in Bologna and how many days should be spent in Bologna?
The first thing I noticed and impressed me were all the arches the buildings had. 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
Only a few steps from the main square (Piazza Maggiore), the Asinelli Towers is the tallest between the 2 you will see here. And it is the one you will be able to climb.
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 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! It can be purchased online, for some of the attractions you can skip the line, and it can be used to all of the main touristic attractions being the perfect solution for two days in Bologna.
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 72 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, the fountain of Neptune, and tens of galleries with shops.
Impossible to miss is the San Petronio Basilica, the half white half black building you won’t miss. The building is impressive but even nicer is the terrace from where we got another beautiful panoramic view over Bologna.
It 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.
(Window) Shopping in Bologna
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, make sure to tell them hi from us 😀
Get lost on the streets
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 ourself wonder 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.
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. Going even deeper in the palazzo it is incredible to see that students have this place to study inside.
The Botanical garden of Bologna
We were initially planning on taking the train on the second day of our stay in Bologna, and get 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 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. On the right side of the road there’s a theatre, and behind it, there’s a park. And in the park we found a beautiful villa hosting a modern art gallery. Villa delle Rose.
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 into 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 hey look like this who can blame me?
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 in 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 go down and eat some with a strong Italian capuccino.
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.
Where to eat in Bologna
Known for its cuisine, the best pasta, 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 tiered 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.
So, have I convinced you to book your next flight to Bologna?
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