A city often overlooked by many tourists heading to Italy, Bologna is somewhat of a hidden gem. It may not have the iconic landmarks we all head to Italy to experience, but it has beautiful canals like Venice, leaning towers similar to Pisa, equally as stunning architecture as Florence, unbelievable food like Naples, and a large masterpiece of a fountain like Rome’s Trevi.
With 2,000 years of history, about the only thing the city doesn’t have is an amphitheatre that rivals the Colosseum. But something which does give it an edge over Rome is a distinct lack of mass tourism.
Bologna is a wonderful city to experience authentic Italy away from all the hype and commotion that often comes with Italy’s major cities. So if you’re looking to experience authentic Italy, here are 5 reasons to make Bologna your next Italian destination, and some great ideas for things to do.
Things to do in Bologna – One of the Best Cities to Visit in Italy
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Pro Tip: British Airways offers direct flights from London to Bologna, sometimes for as low as £34. Flights from London take approximately two hours.
Bologna airport is one of Italy’s most central terminals, only 3.5 miles out of the city. You can easily pre-book a taxi from the airport to the city.
Bologna’s Sheltered Walkways
Bologna’s vast network of porticoes and arcades mean you’ll stay dry even in the heaviest of downpours. Some 40-50km of porticoes exist within the city’s limits including the world’s longest. Things to do in Bologna.
The Portico di San Luca consisting of 666 arches runs nearly 4km to the top of a hill where the beautiful 18th century church Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca rests. But you’ll encounter these impressive walkways just about anywhere within the city. What is Bologna famous for.
Some date back to the 11th century and represent styles ranging from medieval wooden, renaissance, gothic, and nineteenth century court architecture porticoes. Many of the city’s porticoes including St. Luke’s and the Alemanni, have undergone almost no restoration and are therefore composed of the same original material they were built with. Is Bologna worth visiting?
Visit the Fountain of Neptune
It has been a beloved landmark in Bologna since it was erected by the architect Tommaso Laureti and sculptor Giambologna in the 16th century, but the Fountain of Neptune has recently shot to worldwide fame when Facebook deemed a shared photo of it too sexually explicit! Bologna must see.
At the centre of the large fountain stands a 4m statue of Neptune, God of the Sea. It was constructed in honour of Pope Pius IV and aimed to show the power of the Catholic Church. It’s what Bologna Italy is known for.
Although commissioned by the church, even they found the monument a bit risqué. Giambologna was forced to limit the size of Neptune’s “manhood” but cheekily positioned the God’s thumb to form a “large erect penis” when viewing the statue at a certain angle. Wondering what Bologna is known for.
In addition to the overly “sexy body” of Neptune, the fountain portrays several female sea nymphs who squirt water through their large lactating breasts. This led to Facebook deeming the statue too explicit until backlash caused them to reverse their decision. A Bologna Italy points of interest for sure!
Damage and Restoration
It is said that a rare bronze statue by Michelangelo was melted down into a canon to make way for the construction of Neptune and the fountain. As for the Fountain of Neptune, it too has sadly suffered damage over the years from moving it out of fear of destruction from Napoleon and later the Nazis.
Renovations are under way which have been ongoing now for several years. It has sadly been surrounded by scaffolding, blocking visitors from much of a view. It’s still one of the best things to do in Bologna Italy.
Thankfully the refurbishment is due to be completed at the end of this year, but until then, tours can still be made to gain limited access behind the construction which provides a better view of this glorious fountain.
Also worth noting is that the luxury car manufacturer, Maserati, was founded in the city of Bologna and stole Neptune’s trident design as seen in the fountain statue to use as their logo. Now that’s Bologna sightseeing!
Climb the Towers of Bologna
The Towers of Bologna consist of towering medieval structures that stand tall throughout the city. They once were much more numerous, making the city look like an ancient skyscraper city. Nowadays, 21 towers still exist with two being the most well-known. Bologna tourist information.
Bologna has not one but two leaning towers. Asinelli and Garisenda both have a bit of trouble when it comes to standing straight, but this is more prominently displayed by Garisenda which has a considerable tilt. Bologna must see.
Even if you’re only in Bologna for a day, you should climb Asinelli Tower, which is an adventure walking up it’s narrow wooden stairs! In the heart of the city, once you’ve reached the top you’ll enjoy an extraordinary view over Bologna’s rooftops.
It was these two towers which would act as inspiration for Minoru Yamasaki’s original World Trade Center design in New York City. Bologna sights.
Discover Networks of Canals
Like Venice, Bologna has a large network of canals running through the city, but it may take a bit more effort to find them. The city’s tourism bureau offers a “Hidden Canals of Bologna” guide you can pick up or download online.
Many of the city’s 60km network of canals are covered. The city installed a hydraulic system of canals, locks, and pipe work that distributed water throughout the city as early as the 12th century. Sightseeing Bologna.
One place to go for a picturesque Venetian style canal view is the secret window of Via Piella. Within a large orange wall, you’ll find a window which looks out onto the Reno Canal. Look for the blue circular plaque labelled Canale di Reno where you’ll find this porthole allowing for a great photo opportunity.
Don’t expect to get too close to the water as nearly all street access is blocked off. You may, however, be able to organise a guided visit to the underground canals via the Associazione Amici delle Vie D’Acqua.
The Heart of Italian Cuisine
The city of Bologna is known as “the fat one” and for good reason. There is so much delicious food available that you are bound to put on a bit of weight before heading back home. Eating is one of the best things to do in Bologna!
Best of all is the fact many restaurants are rather affordable meaning even the backpacker can enjoy some great local food favourites. Honestly, the food scene is worth making an international flight booking alone!
Of course Bologna is home to mortadella, or bologna sausage as many of us more commonly know it as. True mortadella sausage is much fancier and far tastier than the American version and usually contains bits of peppercorns, pistachios, and chunks of fat. Bologna Italy things to do.
You also must try ragù bolognese while in the city, although you’ll need to order tagliatelle al ragù because you won’t find the word bolognese on any menu here. The authentic dish consists of a beautiful meat sauce containing tomatoes which is presented over ribbon-like tagliatelle pasta, NOT spaghetti.
Pick up some freshly made brioche at one of the many bakeries, a piadina (flatbread) filled with cheese for a quick bite, and try some nice local lambrusco or sangiovese wine. Don’t wonder what to see in Bologna any more!
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Photo credits: Salire a San Luca by Giorgio Minguzzi. Santuario della Madonna di San Luca & Portico Dei Servi by Davide P. Neptune statue by Carlo Raso. Sea Nymph / Fountain of Neptune by Graeme Churchard. Neptune Square by Madalina Ungur. Asinelli Tower by Davide D’Amico. Steps of Asinelli tower by nicolas vadilonga. View from the Asinelli Tower by Michelle Lee. Bologna canals by Paolo Margari.