Bologna Piazza Maggiore || creative commons photo by Michele Ursino

Bologna Piazza Maggiore || creative commons photo by Michele Ursino

Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, known throughout Italy for its rich cuisine, decorated arcades, and historic university. It’s on Italy’s high-speed rail line, making it an easy day trip from Milan or Florence, or even a good base for exploring central Italy. Although the city is often teeming with international students, Bologna is less touristy than some other parts of Italy, which may appeal to some intrepid travelers.

How to Get to Bologna

There are two airports that serve Bologna, if you’re flying directly there – Bologna-Borgo Panigale Airport (BLQ) and Forlì Airport (FRL). The latter isn’t actually in Bologna, and it’s the smaller airport, but it’s served by some discount airlines that BLQ is not. Neither airport is very large, however, so if you’re flying into Italy from overseas, you’re more likely to find cheap flights into Milan than into Bologna.

If you’re already in Italy, getting to Bologna is as easy as getting a train ticket to Bologna Centrale station. As mentioned, it’s on the high-speed rail line, so it’s easy to reach fairly quickly from major cities. From Milan, it’s just over an hour, and from Florence it’s only 35 minutes one-way. The train station is just outside the city center, but it’s easy to get to your lodging from there via taxi.

What to Do & See in Bologna

One of the main pastimes in Bologna – really, in all of the Emilia-Romagna region – is eating. This is the region that gave us things like prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, and bolognese pasta sauce. Bologna also gave us the original bologna – the stuff Oscar Meyer completely ruined. Here, it’s called mortadella, and it’s delicious.

Aside from eating, here’s an incomplete list of some of Bologna’s most popular attractions:

  • Piazza Maggiore
  • Two Towers
  • Basilica of San Petronio
  • Basilica of Santo Stefano
  • Bologna University
  • Ferrari Museum & Factory
  • Lamborghini Museum & Factory
  • Ducati Museum & Factory

This is far from an exhaustive list, and doesn’t include some of the cities you can visit nearby – such as Parma or Modena – for their own culinary treasures.

Guided Tours in Bologna

Where to Stay in Bologna

As with most historic cities in Italy, Bologna is most easily explored if you’ve got lodging in the center. Use the Piazza Maggiore as your center point from which to determine how far out you want to be.

If you’re driving through Italy, make sure to ask your hotel about parking before you arrive. Some hotels have dedicated parking lots, but in the historic center parking can be a big challenge.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Bologna accommodation:

  • Star ratings for hotels in Italy don’t correspond to the ones you may be familiar with. Historic buildings that have been converted into hotels naturally have smaller rooms, and this means they have fewer stars – even if they’re top quality and have a good location. Don’t be afraid to check out two- and three-star hotels if the location looks good.
  • There are hostels in Bologna as well as hotels, and some have private rooms, which is another great way to save money on lodging.
  • For those staying longer than a few days or traveling with a group, you might want to consider an apartment rental instead of a hotel room. These can be an especially good idea if you’re keen on having your own kitchen – either to experiment with Italian cooking or to save money by making some of your own meals.

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