This is a guest post from Eva Milano.
Bologna had a turbulent and eventful past, which has shaped it into the captivating city it is today. Many come here to walk along the reddish stone buildings, admire fine churches, study in the oldest university in the world, and above all, eat exquisite local dishes. If you are a history or art lover, you can enjoy several lovely days in Bologna as it has numerous museums. Whether it is history, industrial development, science, music, or modern and classical art, there is something for every taste.
What is more, Bologna offers a variety of scenic walks across the Giardini Margherita park or up some of the hills surrounding the city. There is no single “perfect day in Bologna”, as this could be a different thing to everyone in a city boasting so much diversity. However, here is an itinerary that has something for active tourists, aesthetes, history enthusiasts, and food connoisseurs.
Table of Contents
The Statue Of Neptune
Start the day at the heart of the city, the fountain of Neptune. This is a marvellous depiction of the Roman god of freshwater and seas. The monument celebrates the election of Pope Pius IV. In his right hand, Neptune is holding a trident, a three-pronged spear used for fishing. His left hand is outstretched as if to calm a raging sea. This gesture is interpreted as a reference to the power of the Pope who governs the religious world the way Neptune commands the sea.
However, many believe the artist played a joke. Standing at the back of the statue, on the right towards the adjacent library Salaborsa, the index finger of Neptune appears as an erect phallus. Whether this optical effect was deliberate or a coincidence, we will never know. Nowadays, it is one of the “Seven Secrets of Bologna”, featuring curious details of the city that most would not notice if not prompted.
The statue of Neptune is located on one side of Piazza Maggiore. Here you can find Bologna’s town hall and the imposing basilica of San Petronio. This is the right time to visit the local Tourist Information office and get your ticket for the Asinelli Tower in advance. Book a time 60 to 30 minutes before sunset so you can enjoy a view of Bologna during the day and at dusk.
The three parallel streets starting from the main square – Via degli Orefici, Via Pescherie Vecchie, and Via Clavature – offer some of the city’s famous food at accessible prices. Wandering in this area you can find lots of restaurants, a covered food market, and many stands and shops selling fresh pasta, fish, fruits, veggies, flowers, and even handmade chocolate.
Art And History In Bologna
Just a stone’s throw away from Piazza Maggiore, you can visit the Archiginnasio that used to be the main building of the University of Bologna from the 16th to the 19th century. Entering the patio, take the stairs to the left. You can fill in a form and visit this magnificent present-day library for free. Stepping into the classrooms of the first European university feels a bit like walking around a Harry Potter set. There are thousands of centuries-old hand-written volumes. You can sit in one of the reading halls to enjoy the atmosphere and imagine what studying here in the 16th century might have been like.
Palazzo Pepoli, Museum Of The History Of Bologna
If you’re curious to learn more about the city, there is no better place than the medieval palace Pepoli. The exhibitions here dive into the history and culture of Bologna, and into the transformations the city has gone through from Etruscan times until now.
A Pleasant Walk In Bologna
If the weather is nice, follow via Castiglione (which passes by the Palazzo Pepoli) right until you get to Porta Castiglione, one of the medieval gates to the city. On your way, you can grab a few scoops of delicious gelato at La Sorbetteria. This is one of Bologna’s signature ice-cream shops which takes great pride in using quality ingredients.
On the other side of Porta Castiglione you will find the entrance to the city’s major park – Giardini Margherita. They are buzzing with life in the summer and are a popular spot for a picnic or yoga in the park. You can also sit at Le Serre, a greenhouse turned into a restaurant and co-working space. This spot still preserves much of its past atmosphere with the array of plants hanging above the tables. Add some colourful lights and live music to the mix, and you have the perfect summer evening.
If you’re visiting Bologna amid the August heat or it happens to be a gloomy day – don’t despair. You can walk down the arcades of Via Saragozza that will protect you from the elements. Here you can pay a visit to the Palazzo Albergati, which hosts many renowned international exhibitions.
Following the way up from Porta Saragozza, you can get to the majestic San Luca sanctuary, located on top of one of the Bolognese hills. Once you get there, it always feels right to reward yourself with a nice meal. Vito a San Luca is the closest restaurant and its menu has a wide selection of original pizzas. If you have a bit of a sweet tooth, hold on for the dessert because the best place to get it is close to the final stop.
Sunset From Torre Degli Asinelli
This is not the easiest sunset view to get to but it is a must-see if you can go up the 498 steps. The Asinelli tower, which takes the name of the family which commissioned it, is a defensive lookout from the Middle Ages. Along with Garisenda, the smaller tower next to it, it makes up Bologna’s most distinctive landmark – the Due Torri. On a clear day, you will get a glimpse of all the spots you visited during your trip. Despite the crowd, stop for a moment and enjoy the view of the artwork of the many cultures and centuries which have shaped Bologna.
To finish the day, drop by Mercato di Mezzo. At the far end, you can find some enticing desserts such as tiramisu and pistachio cream. You can also enjoy a glass of Italian wine as a toast to your perfect day in Bologna.
(Bologna is easy to get to by train, and makes a perfect day trip from Verona.)
Eva Milano is a digital nomad who proudly calls Bologna her “home base”. She is a travelling yoga teacher and freelance writer at All Things Hair. Eva loves to explore the nature, culture and gastronomy of all places she visits.