Recently I was asked for recommendations of off beat places to visit in Italy. The only caveat? It had to have great food and wine… such a difficult task in Italy! Well, give me that brief any day of the week and I’ll recommend Bologna. If this gorgeous little city isn’t on your Italy itinerary, it needs to be. There’s a handful of great things to do in Bologna… and the food – well, it’s what dreams are made of.
You know those places you just know you’ll love, before you’ve even stepped foot there? For me, that was Bologna. And when I got there, it was even better than I’d imagined.
So, what makes Bologna so special?
Firstly, the food.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, one of the best things to do in Bologna is eat. Not just like the rest the Italy, I’m talking serious eating. There’s a reason Bologna’s nickname is la grassa (the fat one)!
Bologna is situated in the gastronomic paradise of Emilia-Romagna, and surrounded by foodie meccas like Parma and Modena. This blessed region is home to balsamic vinegar, prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiono-Reggiono and many more.
Not to be pipped at the post by it’s famous neighbours, Bologna takes it’s food seriously.
Keep an eye out on the menu for my favourite regional specialities:
Tagliatelle al ragù
Contrary to international belief, the bolongesi do not cook or eat ‘Spaghetti Bolognase’ (or ‘Spag Bol’, as loving referred to in Australia). When you’re thinking of this, you’re probably thinking of Tagliatelle al ragù. And it’s ama-zing!
Tortellini en Brodo
I didn’t have high expectations for this dish, but boy was I wrong. It was unlike anything else I had in Italy – and you won’t find it on a menu anywhere else. Do yourself a favour, and order this dish, stat! I left it to our last dinner to try, and I was very disappointed that I couldn’t have it again.
The other amazing thing about Bologna is that, for now, it’s a safe haven from tourists.
It seems that the hoards haven’t discovered Bologna yet.. perhaps because it’s not in a Rick Steves Guidebook! And for me, that’s a total win.
This means that a few days in Bologna can be spent living la dolce vita as the Italians do, surrounded by more Italians than tourists. Craaazy!
Headed to Florence but want to avoid the crowds? Check out my favourite crowd free things to do in Florence.
Things to do in Bologna: Food Coma Guaranteed
1. Eat, eat, eat
Ok, so we’ve kinda already covered this. But if you’re heading to Bologna, chances are this is one of things you’re most looking forward to. And I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Keep scrolling for a list of my favourite places to eat… mouth watering pictures included (i’m not even sorry).
2. Hire a bike and catch an amazing view
As I mentioned, the second great thing about this city is that you can experience local Italian life without interruption from tourists at every corner. This means that there’s no better place to hire a bike and explore. Luckily, the traffic isn’t too crazy!
Pick up bikes from TravelHoo (close by Piazza Maggiore – €6 for 3 hours) and while you’ve got energy head straight up to Complesso Monumentale San Michele (The Church of San Michele) in Bosco to catch what I believe is the best panoramic view of Bologna.
This was one of my favourite non-food-related things to do in Bologna!
3. Stroll the porticos
If riding a bike is a little too strenuous, walk off lunch exploring the city under Bologna’s beautiful portici.
Built to house a surplus of students, there’s supposedly 40km of portici in Bologna – a feat you’ll be thankful for if you’re in Bologna during summer! Walk a while and you’ll be sure to find some great deli’s and loads of cute stores.
4. Catch a Bologna FC game
If you’re in Bologna between August and May, it’s worth trying to catch a game at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. Not something I’d normally do, but Brad’s a massive soccer fan and I’ve got to admit, it was a pretty cool spectacle.
I bought tickets through viagogo, because it seemed that without being local I couldn’t buy them elsewhere online. I’m also pretty sure at €77 each I was completely ripped off – but it was an anniversary gift for Brad and the last game of the season, so I didn’t want us to miss out.
I’m told that most of the time it’s easy enough to buy tickets once you arrive in Bologna, though. If your seats are facing west, don’t forget to pack a hat and sunscreen!
5. Discover Bologna’s hidden canals
It’s little known that Bologna has 60km of canals, most of which are covered over. The cutest one to see is the Reno canal, through a small restored window on via Piella. If you didn’t know it was there, I’m sure you’d walk straight past – but the view is charming!
Where to eat in Bologna
I’m going to preface this by saying that you could probably eat anywhere in Bologna and have a great meal. Seriously – we were starving when we got off the train, and stumbled our way into an unassuming little deli near the market on our walk to our B&B. They were still open (at about 3:30pm), and had some crazy special – I think it was €5 for pasta, bread and water. Unlike most places in Bologna, the pasta wasn’t fresh egg pasta. But, smothered in amazing sauce it was far from our worst meal in Italy. But if you set your hanger aside, and book into one of these great restaurants – your stomach will thank you!
Many restaurants in Bologna close on Mondays – so if there’s a few causing your mouth to water, plan ahead so you can fit them all in.
For tortellini en brodo and amazing wine: Vicolo Colombina
We almost didn’t head into this great little restaurant/wine bar because it looked a touch too fancy for us – but we did, and it was amazing! Their tortellini en brodo is out of the world, and Torta di riso one of the best desserts we had the whole trip.
Address: Vicolo Colombina n5/b
Phone: 051 233 919
Prices: €12-15 for a primi piatti
For a five star budget meal: E’ Cucina
E’ Cucina serves up a surprise menu everyday at ridiculously good prices. Owned by famous Italian chef Cesare Marretti, the food is hardly shabby either!
All you’ve got to do is choose how many courses, and whether you want red or white wine, and meat, fish or vegetarian. Then, a great meal awaits! It’s on the way to the train station and is perfect for a hearty lunch – but get there early because it fills up!
Address: Via Leopardi n.4
Phone: 051 2750069
Prices: differs for dinner and lunch, maximum €30 pp (for a feast!)
For live jazz while you eat: Cantina Bentivoglio
It’s not the food that makes this place special, but rather the live music played most nights in the downstairs part of the restaurant.
It’s a fun place to spend a long, lazy dinner over a good bottle of wine – but don’t get there too early, music doesn’t start til 8pm.
Call to make a reservation & confirm if there’s music
Address: Via Mascarella n.4/b
Phone: 051 265416
Prices: €8-12 for primi piatti – though expect the cover charge to be as high as €6pp when the music’s playing
For Bologna’s best gelato – Funivia Cremeria
Definitely the best gelato in Bologna, I’d argue that it may almost be the best gelato I’ve ever had!
Funivia’s flavours are interesting but not too modern (I recommend the Bacio), and their Piazza Cavour location is the perfect spot to take a breather after a long day.
But, beware – there will be a line. That’s how you know it’s good!
Address: Piazza Cavour n.1/d & Via Porrettana 158/4d
Phone: 051 6569365
Prices: €2,50 – €3,50
Where to stay in Bologna
Staying at Bologna nel Curoe was one of the highlights of our entire trip to Italy.
Run by the lovely Maria, this gorgeous B&B offers the most amazing breakfast in all of Italy. Would you expect anything less from Bologna?!
It’s perfectly located within walking distance of Pizza Maggiore, and everything else you need (read: great food).
We spent a little more staying here than we normally would (Bologna’s accomodation is much more palatable price wise to travellers than most of Italy), but it was well worth it for the amazing breakfast and having Maria on hand to chat and help point us in the right direction (her restaurant recommendations are as good as they come).
Saving for a trip? Read my 11 tips to help you save money for travel.