Bologna is a city with many nicknames, including “La dotta”, “La grassa”, and “La rossa” (the learned, the fat, and the red). It is also sometimes called “L’ombellico del mondo,” or the navel of the world. Whatever you call it, Bologna is an amazing place that every Italy lover should visit.
If you only have a day to spend in Bologna, make sure you use your time wisely––that means seeing some key sites and eating a lot. Described below is a loose itinerary with plenty of photos of what a typical day trip in Bologna can be like. Contact us if you’d like us to design a delicious day in Bologna for you.
The Mercato delle Erbe (Via Ugo Bassi 25) is a recently revamped market in the center of Bologna. The vendors carry fantastic produce and cured meats and cheeses, and there are also some eateries along the periphery of the market where you can refuel while admiring the beautiful produce and people. If you’re looking for good coffee, Grandangolo is a small restaurant/bar down the street that makes excellent espresso and pastries.
After the market, head over to Piazza Maggiore, where you can see the Basilica di San Petronio, a late fourteenth century basilica with an unfinished facade (it’s the largest church in the world made of bricks!). You can also admire the Fountain of Neptune, a late sixteenth century masterpiece.
We’re not finished with Bologna’s markets yet! The Mercato di Mezzo may be a bit touristy, but it is still a must see, even if you just go for the mountains of tortellini. For a quick pick me up, stop into Paolo Atti & Figli for a slice of rice cake, which is like a gorgeously creamy slice of thick rice pudding. It’s also a great place to buy some mortadella and parmigiano to take home.
If you’re only in Bologna for a day, you’ll need to pace yourself. The Emilia-Romagna region (where Bologna is located and is the capital) has such a deep and rich food history, it would be impossible to try all of the typical dishes in a week, let alone one day. That’s why we love La Bottega dei Portici. The place has two informal locations in Bologna where you can sample well-made specialties, like tortellini, in a reasonable portion size. The service is efficient, and you can watch a sfoglina (pasta maker) shaping the different pastas right in front of you.
Once you’ve had your tortellini, make sure you try Bologna’s other specialty: mortadella. This typical pink cured meat can be found throughout Italy, but Bologna is particularly famous for it. You should also try tigelle, a sort of biscuit-y bread, and squacquerone, an incredible soft cheese that is like a combination between straciatella and tangy yogurt. For meats, cheeses, and wine (as well as their pasta dishes), we love La Piccola Baita, Enoteca e Stuzzicheria. It’s a little bit outside of the city center, but the walk is short and the slightly more relaxed atmosphere is worth it.
Make sure you save room for dessert! Just a few doors down from La Piccola Baita lies La Sorbetteria Castiglione. La Sorbetteria Castiglione has two other locations in Bologna, and they all serve delicious and creative gelato flavors. Don’t be surprised when you walk in and don’t see any gelato–they keep it in covered stainless steel drums called carapine to preserve the freshness. Also not to miss is the nearby Pasticceria Neri, where you can buy delicious sweets typical of Emilia-Romagna.
Walk off all of the goodness with a trip to La Basilica di San Domenico, where there is a shrine that was commissioned in 1264 but took nearly 500 years to complete. The shrine, called L’arca di San Domenico, has later additions by Michelangelo. Start wrapping up your evening with a nighttime stroll to see the towers of Bologna.
Stop in for one last nightcap at Medulla Vini, a wine bar with a fantastic natural wine selection. There isn’t a menu, but the owner will ask you what you like and help you find something you’ll love. Head off to the train station, with bags of mortadella and parmigiano in tow.
If you have any questions about Bologna or are interested in a tour, email us!
Julia Terranova is a Brooklyn born, Italian-American student with a love of Rome and all things Italy. She spends her time cooking for friends and reading as many cookbooks as she can find.