Bologna is a food-lovers’ haven – and the city knows it.
From the moment you step off the plane, the city welcomes you with food. Giant posters of food immediately give way to stalls of actual food, packed to the rafters with homemade tortellini, parmigiano reggiano, hams and sausages and bottles of aceto balsamico.
The ride from the airport to the city center is lined with osterias and trattorias, their tables clad in red-and-white checkered tablecloths. A quick walk down a street – any street – brings you past food stalls and markets, filled with the season’s bright-colored fruits and produce, various forms of meat hanging from the roof, and lots and lots of cheese.
The food alone is worth staying in Bologna for a couple of days or more, but the city has a lot more to offer. The city is peppered with historical and cultural artifacts and plenty of spots for panoramic city views and romantic strolls. Bologna is also an excellent base for day trips in and around Emilia-Romagna, whether you’re searching for culinary experiences, charming medieval towns, or a seaside escape.
While you can easily extend your stay and never run out of things to do or restaurants to eat at in Bologna, this essential travel guide will get you started on your holiday plans. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Bologna.
Little Holidays Guide to Bologna, Italy – 3-day itinerary and travel guide
- How to spend 3 days in Bologna
- Map – essential landmarks in Bologna
- Best things to do in Bologna
- Day trips from Bologna
- Where to eat and drink
- Essential travel guide to Bologna – planning your trip
- Beyond Bologna – where you should go next
Here’s a quick overview of the best things to do for 3 days in Bologna. You’ll find more details below, as well as a Google map you can save and follow.
Day 1 – Start your holiday exploring the historical center. Make your way to Piazza Maggiore, the city’s hub, and admire the surrounding palaces and artworks. Look around the Basilica di San Petronio and the Archiginnasio, weave in and out of the medieval streets of the Quadrilatero, then make your way to La Piccola Venezia. Climb up the Asinelli Tower for a stunning panoramic view of the city, then spend the evening enjoying the city’s lowkey nightlife back at the Piazza Maggiore.
Day 2 – Food is what Bologna does best, so spend a full day getting up close and personal with the city’s rich food traditions! Explore the food markets or better yet, go on a guided food tour, join a cooking class, or take a day to explore Emilia-Romagna and have a full regional feast.
Day 3 – Discover sights beyond Bologna’s historical center and wear comfortable shoes for some serious urban trekking. Walk under the porticoes all the way to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca for amazing views of the city. Then pack a picnic and relax at the Giardini Margherita with food and wine for a sweet end to your little holiday in Bologna.
Most of Bologna’s top sights are in the historical center, or close to it. You can easily get around on foot, but the city is also served by all kinds of public transportation.
I added all my top recommended sights, restaurants, and hotels in this Google map so you can get around the city easily on your own.
Day 1 – Explore Bologna’s historic center
Start your holiday in Piazza Maggiore, the city’s historical and cultural hub.
The square has been the center of the city for centuries now – it’s where the citizens used to gather for law proclamations, tournaments, public festivals, and weekly markets. Now, the city’s most important religious and political buildings can be found surrounding the piazza. It’s also where a lot of street artists and performers set up shop to add color to the historic square.
The square is surrounded by the city’s major administrative and religious buildings – the Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo del Podesta, and Palazzo dei Bianchi. Also nearby is the Piazza del Nettuno, where you’ll find the Fountain of Neptune.
Soak up the Piazza’s atmosphere, and then enter the Basilica.
Basilica di San Petronio
The most impressive building in Piazza Maggiore is the Basilica di San Petronio, one of the world’s largest churches. It was initially designed to be shaped like a Latin cross and to be larger than the St. Peter’s Church in Rome. However, over the centuries of constructing the basilica starting in 1390, it had to be downsized to its current form. At present, the upper part of the basilica’s façade is still unfinished. Still, you can appreciate how massive the basilica is, especially when you step inside.
You can get a beautiful panoramic view of the city from the basilica’s terrace.
From the Basilica, make your way to the Archiginnasio via the Portico del Pavaglione.
Bologna is known for its porticoes and has 38 KMs of porticoes all around the city. Beginning in the 11th century, people started building porticoes to extend the interiors of buildings’ upper floors – basically an ingenious way of “private use of public space.” Now, though, the porticoes are a gift to tourists like us – you can get around the city rain or shine, and these medieval structures make for really pretty pictures.
Follow the Portico del Pavaglione until you reach the Archiginnasio.
The Archiginnasio once was the main building of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe (Fun fact: the Latin word “universitas” was coined at the University of Bologna’s foundation, making universities one of Bologna’s significant contributions to the world!). Now, the Archiginnasio houses Emilia-Romagna’s largest library and the Anatomical Theater.
Now that you’ve seen two major things that make Bologna unique – the porticoes and Europe’s oldest university – it’s time to experience the third, and probably best, feature of Bologna – its food!
From the Archiginnasio, retrace your steps back to Piazza Maggiore and start weaving in and out of the alleys and streets that comprise the Quadrilatero – the city’s old medieval market. We’ll explore the food markets more on your second day, but for now, admire the scents and sounds of daily life in Bologna. Find a table and sample the local cuisine in Mercato di Mezzo, or enjoy spritz and a platter of cold cuts from Bella Vita for that authentic local taste.
La Piccola Venezia
Once you’ve filled up, make your way to La Piccola Venezia, Bologna’s “little Venice.”
Bologna used to be a city on water, with ports and canals that lead to the sea. However, the canals were covered with asphalt in the early 20th century, leaving only a few stretches of water. Get a glimpse of the ancient canal system through the Finestrella, a small but famous window that overlooks the canal.
If you came here hungry, you’re in luck. Beside the Finestrella is the Trattoria dal Biassanot, which services delicious traditional regional cuisine.
Le Due Torri
From La Piccola Venezia, it’s time to climb up Bologna’s leaning tower for fabulous views of the city. Make sure to buy a ticket online in advance, as entry to the tower is limited and almost always sold out on the spot.
The Torre degli Asinelli is the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world, standing at 97.2 meters. It’s a bit of a climb – 498 steps to be exact, or 12,270 tagliatelle set side by side – but the view at the top is worth it.
Once you’ve basked in the stunning panoramic city views, make your way back to Piazza Maggiore and join the city’s locals as it ends the day with amazing food and wine.
Day 2 – A taste of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna
Bologna’s food markets
On your second day, get up close and personal with Bologna’s rich food traditions. Visit a couple of the city’s food markets and indulge in the scents and sounds of everyday local life in Bologna.
Mercato di Mezzo is close to the Piazza Maggiore and a good spot for brunch. Go through the 3-story pavilion and sample the region’s meats, sausages, and cheese. You can also find a traditional pizzeria and an artisanal beer pub for a festive start to the day.
Next up, venture a little off-center to Mercato Delle Erbe. This is a great place to buy pasta, cheese, and meats for bringing home. If you’re still hungry – or just can’t resist! – part of the market is a food court where you can sit down and enjoy the fresh fare. If you’re in the mood for seafood, look for Banco 32.
For something way off the tourist grid, you can go to Mercato Albani in the eclectic Bolognina district. While this is mostly a downtown market where locals go to do their morning shopping, you can grab some quick bites and wine at Sbando.
Food tours and cooking classes
If you’re looking to get a deeper appreciation of the city’s food traditions, it’s best to follow the footsteps of knowledgeable local.
Go on this guided food tour around Bologna to discover the best meat and cheese shops in the Quadrilatero area, eat traditional ragu, sample Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar, and indulge on charcuterie.
If you have the full day, I’d recommend this tour of Emilia-Romagna’s prime food spots instead – you’ll get to peek behind the scenes and see how Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar are produced, and of course, you’ll get to have a sumptuous lunch in a beautiful countryside restaurant. You’ll also get to visit Emilia-Romagna’s other pride and joy: the Ferrari Museum. It’s an excellent overview of the region and a fun day trip.
If you really want to get hands-on, though, take a cooking class and forever recreate your favorite Italian dishes.
Day 3 – Urban treks and green spaces
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
Now it’s time to work off all those calories you stuffed on day 2! Wear comfortable shoes for some serious urban trekking on day 3.
From your hotel, make your way to the Arco del Meloncello, the start of the arcade consisting of 666 arches leading to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The basilica lies atop the Colle della Guardia and offers a beautiful view of the city.
From the Sanctuary, make your way back to the city center and grab a bite before heading to Giardini Margherita. This is the city’s largest park with multiple paths for running or strolling, a small lake, and lovely cafes. End the day relaxing underneath the canopy of trees, ideally with food and wine.
Bologna is a great base for day trips around Emilia-Romagna, as well as to neighboring regions. To get around, you can either get a rental car or go by rail. Here are some ideas for day trips and longer adventures from Bologna.
- Road trip in Emilia-Romagna
If you love road trips and food, this is a must! We got our car from Bologna airport and started food tripping from Piacenza to Parma to Modena, then went all the way to Rimini and Cesenatico for seafood. You can do this over 2-3 days and with Bologna as your base. I’ll be writing a detailed road trip itinerary soon, so check back again. If you need quick suggestions ASAP, you can send me a message, and I’ll send over our itinerary.
- San Marino
Step into a whole new country and enjoy mountain views, seafood, and duty-free shopping!
While you can explore San Marino on a day trip from Bologna (take a train from Bologna Centrale Station to Rimini, then take the Bonelli Bus 72 to San Marino), if you love nature and the outdoors, it’s well worth staying for a night or two. There’s plenty to see and do in this microstate.
But if you only have a day to soak in San Marino’s charms, make a beeline for the three towers, ride the funicular for fantastic views of the Adriatic sea, and wander the historic winding streets of the old town.
Bologna is a city where you can quite literally walk into any restaurant and have one of the best meals of your life. This city is the epicenter of great food, and – as unbelievable as it may sounds – there seem to be no bad restaurants here.
Still, if you want a bit of guidance on what to eat and where, here are Bologna’s classic dishes and where to try them. Check the Google map for the restaurants’ locations.
Tortellini en brodo and tagliatelle al ragu are two classic pasta dishes in Bologna. Try them at La Taverna Dei Peccati, which also serves delicious tiramisu and zuppa inglese.
Another pasta dish you must try is the green lasagna, which you can try in Trattoria dal Biassanot right beside the Finestrella. They also have green ravioli and meat dishes, so make sure to come hungry.
Don’t skip the appetizers and make sure to get a plate of mortadella, parma ham, parmigiano reggiano, and more of the region’s meats and cheeses which pairs nicely with the atmosphere in Bella Vita.
While you can most definitely follow your nose to good food, you can also get a guide to feed you the best Bologna eats here.
Tell us: What are you most excited about your holiday in Emilia-Romagna?
Flying – You can find flights to Bologna here.
From the airport to the city – From Bologna airport, you can get to the city center by bus, by taxi, or by private transfer.
If you’re planning to use the bus, look for the Aerobus Airport City Link. You’ll find signs to the bus stop all over the airport. A bus goes every 11 minutes from 5:30 am to 12:15 am, and you can buy your tickets from the vending machine just beside the exit to the bus stop. Make sure you buy tickets before queuing to get on the bus. You can also get your tickets online in advance here.
By train – If you’re coming from elsewhere in Italy, the best way to get to Bologna is by rail. If you have a packed itinerary (or if you plan to go on day trips to nearby cities), it’s convenient and more economical to get an Italian Eurail pass.
If you’re planning to hop over to other neighboring countries, check out also multi-country Eurail passes. You can find all your options here.
Public transportation – Bologna is connected by buses operated by the TPER company. You can get tickets from machines, onboard, or from the Roger app.
Renting a car – Bologna is an excellent base for a food-centric road trip around Emilia-Romagna. If you’re getting a rental car from the Bologna airport, make sure to reserve online in advance and stay in a hotel outside the city’s pedestrian zones.
Don’t bring the car when exploring Bologna’s Centro Storico. Also, take note of signs indicating ZTLs (zona a traffico limitato or limited traffic area) and don’t enter them if you don’t have the necessary passes. I found that Waze gives directions that avoid the ZTLs, but in case your GPS leads you to one, find another way as fines can really be steep.
Best areas to stay in Bologna
If you want to explore Bologna’s cultural and gastronomical highlights easily, stay in the Centro Storico. Most of the city’s historical sights, finest restaurants, and shopping streets are within the historical center. Hotel Al Cappello Rosso is an excellent base if you plan to really soak up the city’s atmosphere.
If you plan to explore Emilia-Romagna by rail, stay near the Bologna Central Station. Bologna is a great base to explore the region from, and the Central Station is the main transportation hub. If you’re planning daily trips around the region, stay in Unahotels Bologna Centro.
If you’re planning a road trip holiday in Emilia-Romagna, stay outside Bologna’s pedestrian zones. You’ll still be within walking distance of Bologna’s historical sights, while easily driving off to see the rest of Emilia-Romagna. Savoia Hotel Regency in the Bologna Fiera district is a great option, especially if you want a relaxing stay off the historic center.
You can find more recommendations in this neighborhood and hotel guide to Bologna.
Top tips for travel to Bologna
Languages spoken: Italian, English
Money: Euro (1 EUR ~ 1.13 USD) – You can withdraw Euros from all Italian bank ATMs free of charge – you’ll only be charged by your bank for conversion fees. If you have a borderless card like TransferWise, convert your currency to EUR on your app first, then withdraw quickly and hassle-free.
- Accommodations – A stay for two in a luxurious hotel (like the Grand Hotel Majestic) can cost up to EUR 350/night. A beautiful, boutique hotel in a central location (like the Hotel Al Cappello Rosso) costs around EUR 100/night. You can also find budget hotels outside the main touristic area (like Hotel Michelino), where you can get comfortable rooms for as low as EUR 50/night.
- Food – You can spend EUR 40 upwards for a nice dinner for two in the many restaurants. Check our recommended ones here.
Tipping: Tipping is not expected, but 10-15% of the bill is appreciated. In most of the sit-down restaurants, you’ll find “coperto” added to your bill. This ranges from EUR 2-3 per person and is a cover charge for your use of cutlery and tablecloths. Pretty reasonable, considering you don’t have to tip!
Weather and best times to go: Bologna is a city best enjoyed outdoors, so go when the weather is nice. April, May, and June are pleasant months (21-30C), July and August are hot (35C), while September and October have good fall weather (22-28C). It doesn’t really get very touristy in Bologna, but fall is generally slower (with better hotel prices and even fewer crowds) than spring.
Staying connected: You can stay connected easily with convenient and reliable Wi-Fi and data plans that you can use in the whole EU. You can reserve your card or gadget in advance and pick it up where convenient.
Love laidback and non-touristy destinations like Bologna? Perhaps one filled with amazing food and plenty of road trip opportunities? Here are more European regions that tick all those boxes.
This French wine region doubles as a real-life storybook destination dotted with charming towns, plenty of scenic hiking spots, and lots of good food and wine.
If you loved Emilia-Romagna’s vibe, you’d also love South Moravia. Its capital city, Brno, is a lot like Bologna – historic and yet kept young and current by its vibrant university scene. Outside Brno, there are plenty of charming castle towns that compete to produce the region’s best wines, all best seen on a road trip.
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I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Bologna, Italy!
Amazing food, a relaxing city break, and an adventurous road trip – Bologna truly ticks all of my boxes of what makes a really great holiday! And a major plus? No crowds! Bologna is truly one of Italy’s most underrated destinations ever!
I still have a couple of blog posts planned for our trip to Italy and the neighboring country of San Marino, so make sure to save this post and check back. In the meantime, if you’re traveling soon and have any questions, get in touch, and I’ll do my best to help you out.
Happy travels – and food trips – to Italy!