Located in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, Bologna is something of a best kept secret among the Italians who flock here for its amazing food, shopping and culture. Fancy a little of what they’re having? Check out these 7 good reasons to get planning a trip to this beautiful city…
So many world-famous dishes are synonymous with the little-explored city of Bologna. The birthplace of spaghetti bolognese – though in Bologna it’s called ragù and served with tagliatelle – Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, mortadella, prosciutto… the region is home to a wealth of iconic Italian ingredients. While you’re in town, be sure to try a Piadina, or flatbread sandwich and student staple; one of the city’s native pasta dishes such as fresh Tortellini in Brodo or Tagliatelle a Ragù and for breakfast try Torta di Riso – a sweet rice cake.
Bologna is home to the oldest and most important university in the western world, founded in 1088. Be sure to visit Archiginnasio (the first seat of the university), the astonishing Teatro Anatomico, where anatomy dissections took place, and the library houses the largest collection of texts and manuscripts in the whole country. The illustrious list of university alumni includes Copernicus, Pope Alexander VI and Dante, and today the student population lends an academic, lively and bohemian atmosphere to the medieval city.
The city’s elegant and graceful arched porticoes are unique to Bologna. There are 53km of arcades that snake around the city, many dating from the 11th century. They lend a unique character to the city whilst playing an extremely practical role of keeping shoppers cool in summer and dry in winter. You can walk under the longest portico in the world (666 arcades!) to Basilica San Luca. It’s a steep hike, but worth it for the views at the top.
Bologna is the wealthiest city in Italy – if ever proof was needed, just check out the huge selection of upmarket shops that line its marble porticoes. Head to Via Farini beyond piazza Maggiore for designer shopping (or window shopping!) and stop for a coffee or gelato at Zanarini – the place to see and be seen. You’ll find high street shops on the nearby thoroughfares of Via Indipendenza and Via Francesco Rizzoli.
You can’t leave Bologna without a souvenir of its edible bounty. Find delicatessen and traditional food shops in the tiny, tightly packed streets between piazza Maggiore and the towers and pick up some of the region’s delicacies.
Emilia-Romagna is a sizeable region, stretching from the Adriatic to the region Liguria on the opposite coast. It also borders Marche, Tuscany, Veneto, Piedmont and Lombardy. Modena, Ferrara, Parma and Rimini are all popular destinations in Emilia-Romagna and make great day trips from Bologna. Rent a car and plan the ultimate Italian road trip. Alternatively, public transport links are excellent, with frequent, fast trains from Bologna across the country. Reach Florence in 45 minutes, Milan in an hour or Venice in around two hours.
The evening aperitivo is a bit of an institution in Bologna – it’s serious business. Bars have started competing for business by offering extensive buffets, and you pay around €8 for a spritz cocktail and unlimited nibbles of cut meats, cheese, small sandwiches and fried potatoes. These spots are popular with students as an ample replacement for dinner. Le Stanze and the bar at MAMbo are a couple of my favourite spots for a drink, but it’s Osteria del Sole that wins the locals’ vote. It’s the oldest bar in Bologna and the 15th century osteria is rough around the edges but packed with soul. They serve countless local wines by the glass, but if you want to eat, you bring your own food. Pick up a few snacks from one of the delicatessen nearby and enjoy a relaxed evening at one of the long wooden tables.
Bologna is known as La Grassa (the fat one, for obvious reasons), La Dotta (the learned one; a nod to the university) and La Rossa (the red one – a reference to the colour of the roofs but also to the city as a left wing, communist stronghold during the postwar years). Climb the 11th century Torre Asinelli for breathtaking views over the terracotta rooftops of La Rossa and the surrounding hills. Along with the leaning Garisenda next to it, the medieval tower is one of the most recognisable architectural symbols of the city.
Bologna also flourished during the renaissance, and still has many of its renaissance palaces. Terrible damage to the city was suffered during WWII, which was targeted as an industrial centre and transport hub. Since the 1970s, much of Bologna’s medieval and renaissance architecture has been restored.
Often overlooked by visitors for the cultural draws of Rome, Venice and Florence, Bologna’s cultural offering is one with some serious weight. There’s an extraordinary collection of artwork from the like of Raphael and Titian at Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Museum) and the Archaeological Museum is one of the most prestigious in the country. The city’s contemporary art museum MAMbo is temporarily hosting The Morandi Museum while its venues are restored. Morandi is one of the best known Italian painters of the 20th century and lived most of his life in Bologna. It’s a wonderful collection of his work and well worth a visit. Throughout summer, the city hosts heaps of open air cinema, music, dance and theatre events. The Bologna Festival and Jazz Festival are both well known throughout Italy.
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Flights to Bologna
- Hannah Frances