Bologna in a Day: What to Do and Eat

Bologna in a Day: What to Do and Eat

What to do in Bologna in a day? How do you spend one day in Bologna, Italy? Simple. You spend it eating.

At least, that’s what we did.

Bologna, Italy is the foodie capital of Italy. To say that the locals here take their food seriously is an understatement. There is a reason why Bologna is known as La Grassa or the Fat One.

The capital city of Emiliia Romagna is renowned for its rich and hearty cuisine that features dishes like tagliatelle al ragu (basically, the Bolognese pasta dish made with meat sauce that we all know), tortellini, lasagna, and of course, the famous mortadella (Italian baloney).

But Bologna is not all about food. The city is also home to beautiful medieval terracotta buildings, art museums, and lovely piazzas. And, of course, infamous porticoes all over the city stretching for 62 km and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bologna is also a University City, bustling with students. The city is alive with energy and has a great nightlife scene – which surprised us during our visit.

For a while now, Bologna was one of the top cities in Italy that we wanted to visit. Our foodie’s hearts were curious and excited to try all the dishes Bologna is known for.

Of course, we only planned one day in Bologna, which isn’t enough, but with the help of a fantastic food tour company we booked, we tried all the top Bologna foods.

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Thanks to our tour guide, we also enjoyed a few of the top sites and attractions in Bologna, and the rest of the day we spent exploring independently.

Bologna deserves to be adequately explored in more than a day. However, the city of Bologna is small and compact, if a day is all you have, it’s enough to eat to get a taste of what it offers if you plan it right.

You’ll see why Bologna is one of Italy’s most beloved cities. And also a city that doesn’t get enough praise or visits as other popular cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice.

We break down what to do and eat in one day in Bologna. And we promise you’ll be hungry and looking forward to your time in Bologna by the end of this Tasty Itinerary.

One Day in Bologna

birds eye view of Piazza Maggiore in Bologna Italy

A day in Bologna may not sound enough as it’s a lively city with many great restaurants and things to see. You can always plan an extended stay if you have the luxury of time.

But Bologna is a relatively small and manageable city. It’s one of those well-preserved medieval cities with a beautiful historical center that’s easy to explore on foot. You don’t need public transportation to get around Bologna as most of the top attractions are located within the city center.

Bologna is also a very safe city. It felt as busy as walking around New York City, but it was mostly filled with locals and students enjoying their daily lives. We felt safe and comfortable walking around Bologna independently and at night. That said, always be vigilant.

How to Get to Bologna

If you plan to enjoy Bologna in a day, here are some transportation options from nearby cities in Italy:

Option 1: Take the Train to Bologna Centrale

  • Day trip from Modena to Bologna is a 30 min train ride one-way.
  • Day trip from Florence to Bologna is a 40 min train ride one-way.
  • Day trip from Parma to Bologna is a 1 hour train ride one-way.
  • Day trip from Milan to Modena is a 1 hour 15 min train ride one-way.

Book your tickets in advance. Click here for train times and info.

Option 2: Rent a Car

Driving in Italy is not meant for everyone, but it is an option. One that gives you the freedom to explore the small villages and countryside that you otherwise would not have been able to experience.

We rented with Avis during our time in Italy. For our day trip to Bologna from Modena, we drove to not depend on the train schedule. The drive was one hour (the train is faster).

Where to park in Bologna, Italy? The closest parking lot to the city center of Bologna is Parcheggio Piazza VIII Agosto- about a 10 minute walk.

Parcheggio Piazza VIII Agosto: 33, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy (Google Map It)

Option 3: Book a day trip that includes the city of Bologna or hire a private driver.

Tour Ideas:

  • One Day Private Tour of Bologna with Transfer from Florence [book here]

Bologna in a Day

What can you do in Bologna, Italy?

There are a number of things you can do in Bologna in 1 day or more, starting with the food. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, also known as the Food Valley. You will learn quickly that food is important to the locals in Bologna.

Top Things to do in Bologna in 1 Day

As we mentioned, Bologna is a very walkable city. It’s compact and easy to get around without too much planning. That being said, there are some key attractions that you won’t want to miss out on.

We do recommend booking a tour. Even if it’s not a food tour, a walking tour of the city will guide you and help you appreciate its history and culture.

If you’ve never been to Bologna, you may feel slightly overwhelmed as it is a busy University City.

Book a Foodie Tour With Delicious Bologna

One of the best ways to enjoy Bologna in a day is by booking a food tour. Bologna is not only the food capital of Italy but the world, after all!

We recommend going on a food tour with Delicious Bologna. They gave us one of the best food tours we’ve taken thus far. So much food for the value of the tour, but also a fantastic tour guide. The tour was so much fun.

Not only was the local tour guide passionate about his city, the food, and supporting the local businesses of Bologna, but he was also a wealth of knowledge.

The Daylight Food Tour includes multiple stops and delicious foods from Bologna.

  • We enjoyed a typical Italian breakfast of cafe and cornetto.
  • Stopped by a local salumeria.
  • We visited a pasta-making facility where local Italian women were expertly handmaking tortellini and other local kinds of pasta.
  • At an old-school trattoria in Quadrilatero, we drank too much Lambrusco and sampled Proscuitto di Parma, Culatello di Zibello, Mortadella, and Parmigiano Reggiano from the salumeria.
  • We sat down for lunch at a restaurant where we had wine and small portions of tortellini in brodo (the best we’ve ever had), tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese, and lasagna verde.
  • We returned to the salumeria and sampled different ages of balsamic vinegar.
  • We ended the tour with some amazing gelato.

It was a small group tour of lovely people that shared our love of food.

So if you’re looking for a food tour, we highly recommend a food tour with Delicious Bologna. [book here]

Other Food Tour Ideas:
Bologna walking tasting tour with Secret Food Tours [book here]
The 10 Tastings of Bologna with Locals [book here]

Two Towers of Bologna

The Towers of Bologna are hard to miss when walking into the city center. They’re the tallest buildings in Bologna. The Asinelli Tower is 97.2 m (319 ft) high, and the Garisenda Tower is 48.6 m (157 ft) high.

Bologna once used to have over 100 towers. Towers are used to represent wealth and power. Le Due Torri was built by two families in the 12th century. They were built at the entrance of the city to see who was coming from the south.

Torre Garisenda Tower used to be taller at 60m, but 12m of the tower was removed in the 14th century.

Torre degli Asinelli is open to the public, and you can walk up 498 steps to the top for a small fee. The views of Bologna from the top are supposedly fantastic. If this is on the top of your list, plan ahead.

You can book tickets online: here.

Fun fact: The Garisent tower is leaning at 4 degrees! Giving the Leaning Tower of Pisa a run for its money, leaning at 3.97 degrees.

Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore is Bologna’s grand central square, located in the city’s heart. It’s considered one of the oldest piazzas in Italy, dating back to 12the century.

While standing in this historic piazza, you’ll want to admire a few things:

  • the medieval architecture and grandeur of the piazza
  • the Basicala of San Petronio
  • Neptunes Fountain
  • the energy and lively atmosphere of the piazza
Inside the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna Italy
Inside the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, Italy.

The piazza is surrounded by some of Bologna’s most iconic buildings, including the Basilica of San Petronio, which is free to enter.

Neptune’s Fountain can be found at the center of Piazza Maggiore, and it has quite a presence. The statue is affectionately called  “il Gigante.”

The energy in this piazza is palpable. We enjoyed watching everyone take in and enjoy the space. At night, when we were there, it was still full of locals and tourists. There was even an outdoor movie being set up.

Look for the Whispering Walls

whispering walls in bologna italy
Trying out the whispering walls. You will hear the other person standing diagonally in the opposite corner of you, clearly.

While in Piazza Maggiore, you’ll want to look for the whispering walls under Palazzo della Podestà. These vaulted arches create a whispering effect when someone talks into one corner, and the person in the other can hear it in the corner diagonally across from them.

There are four corners in total, and they’re all located under the porticoes of Piazza Maggiore.

This is one of those hidden secrets of Bologna that has become popular with tourists, and it is one of those fun things to do in Bologna.

Tour Idea:
Highlights & Hidden Gems With Locals [book here]

A Day Trip to Parma, Italy

Parma, Italy is only a one-hour train ride from Bologna and makes for a fabulous day trip to add to your itinerary. We share our one day in Parma with a suggested itinerary of all things you can do and what Parma foods not to miss.

The Porticoes of Bologna

The Porticoes of Bologna are a defining characteristic of the city and a part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Bologna has the longest-covered porticoes in the world, they are a total of 40 miles of porticoes in the city. And, one of our favorite parts about our visit to Bologna.

The porticoes are unique because they connect different parts of the city and provide shade and shelter from the rain or sun.

As you explore the city, you’ll notice that the porticoes are used as more than just walkways. Some have steps where people relax, and people watch, other’s have outdoor seating from cafes and restaurants.

Explore the Quadrilatero of Bologna

The Quadrilatero is Bologna’s historic medieval market district. It’s located in the heart of Bologna, between Piazza Maggiore and the Two Towers. It is a great place to explore, shop, and grab a bite. It also has many picturesque corners of beautiful produce stands and outdoor seating at cafes.

As foodies, you’ll want to add it to your Bologna in a day itinerary. There are many food options in the Quadrilatero, from fresh produce to meat and cheese. You can also find some great restaurants and cafes.

We were told by our food tour guide that the Quadrilatero is a great place to stop for drinks and plates of salumi and fromagerie. Not the best for authentic meals.

It’s a lively and vibrant area with lots of people out and about.

Tour Idea:
Classic Walking Tour Bologna [book here]

Find Bologna’s Hidden Canals

Who knew that Bologna had hidden canals? We certainly didn’t. Not sure if we’d call them a secret, but technically, they are hidden if you’re not looking – it was purposely designed that way. The canals have been part of Bologna since the 12th century.

The canals are part of Bologna’s hydraulic system, and underground pipes were used to move the water around the city. Some of the canals are hidden behind buildings; you can only see them if you know where to look.

We recommend walking around Bologna and keeping your eyes peeled for the canals. But here are a few spots you can take to find them, including the famous door window with locks that have recently become social media famous.

Be aware there is a line at the Little Window, but it goes quick.

Have an Aperitivo at Piazza Santo Stefano

piazza san stefano in bologna italy

If you want to relax with a drink and get away from the crowds, Piazza Santo Stefano is the place to be. The piazza is Bologna’s most atmospheric square, with plenty of outdoor seating at the cafes and restaurants.

Piazza Santo Stefano is also known as Bologna’s Seven Churches Square because of the seven religious buildings around the square.

The Basilica di Santo Stefano is the most notable church, one of Bologna’s most important religious sites, and it is free to enter.

blackberry spritz aperitivo
We found a quiet corner at an indoor cafe where I had a delicious blackberry spritz.

Bologna Foods to Eat

With Bologna being the foodie capital of Italy, you can imagine that the list of foods is long. But we’ve narrowed it down to a few you must try in Bologna.

Tortellini

tortellini en brodo bologna foods

The tortellini is Bologna’s most iconic dish. These little ring-shaped pasta pieces are filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables.

If you see Tortellini en brodo on the menu, go for it. We had the best on our food tour. We’ll never forget how flavorful that broth was and then the tortellini packed a punch of flavor. It was stupendous.

Tagliatelle al Ragú Bolognese

Tagliatelle al Ragú Bolognese | bolognese food

This is Bologna’s iconic dish that we are familiar with, but not entirely. It’s a whole different ball game in Bologna.

Tagliatelle, a long, flat noodle made of egg and flour, is served with Bologna’s signature ragù. The Bolognese sauce is made with a slow-cooked meat sauce.

Lasagne Verde alla Bolognese

lasagne verde bologna foods

To appreciate lasagne verde, you have to forget everything you think you know about lasagna. It is different from the classic lasagna but still delicious.

The lasagne verde in Bologna is layered with spinach pasta (why it’s called verde), besciamella, ragù, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

It’s a filling dish, but one you’ll want to devour.

Cotoletta alla Bolognese

Cotoletta alla Bolognese is a traditional Bologna food. This is their version of a breaded pork cutlet. The pork is pounded thin, breaded, and fried, then topped with Proscuitto and a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese sauce.

We’d describe the cheese sauce as tasting similar to an Alfredo sauce, although they’d probably be offended by us saying that. Of course, preparation can vary from restaurant to restaurant.

It is quite rich and filling. We suggest sharing this as a main course.

Mortadella

mortadella in bologa

We can’t forget the mortadella. Mortadella is a popular cold cut in Bologna that you’d find in a salumeria. It’s a smooth textured pork sausage that is similar to ham but much tastier, in our opinion.

The mortadella here is softer and has a creamier texture than you’d find in the States. Usually, I’m not a fan, but the mortadella we had in Bologna was so different.

Is Bologna worth visiting?

Yes! The food alone is worth the visit to Bologna. This vibrant city also has so much to offer in terms of culture and history. It’s a lively city with a youthful population thanks to the University. of Bologna – the oldest university in the world. Making the city feel alive and vibrant.

Wonderful Things to Do in Modena, Italy

Looking for things to do in Modena, Italy? This wonderful Italian city in Emilia Romagna is known for its Balsamic Vinegar, Luciano Pavarotti’s birthplace, and the Enzo Ferrari museum. With only a 30-minute train ride from Bologna, Modena should not be missed.

Where to Eat in Bologna

We got so many recommendations of places to eat in Bologna it was hard to choose for just one night. We didn’t make reservations far in advance, and then when we tried making one a few nights prior, most restaurants were already reserved.

Our amazing food guide suggested this fantastic restaurant with live Jazz music. We were able to make same-day reservations and had a fabulous dinner with entertainment to end our one day in Bologna.

Cantina Bentivoglio

Cantina Bentivoglio is the place for you if you want a fun dining experience in Bologna and enjoy live jazz music.

This old-school trattoria has an upstairs and a downstairs dining area. The downstairs is where music will be played on some nights. When making reservations, ask if any live bands are playing that night.

The service and the food here were excellent, so if you are looking for a great dining experience, they will deliver. They were so nice here.

We ordered way too much food at dinner here. We did two courses each to start and shared the main entree. If we could go back, we’d probably do the main entree after all the food we had during the day. We were so excited to try as much as possible. Every single one exceeded expectations.

Pappardelle with porcini and chestnuts from cantina bentivoglio in bologna italy
Pappardelle con funghi porcini e castagne

There was one pasta dish, “Pappardelle con funghi porcini e castagne,” that was outstanding and that we still talk about today. It had chestnuts and porcini mushrooms, a combination we had never had, and it worked exceptionally well.

We were told this was the place to order Cotoletta alla Bolognese (pictured earlier), so we ordered that as the main entree. Wow, this dish stunned us with its size and richness. It was very good, happy we tried it and shared.

We loved listening to the live music while enjoying some Bolognese food and wine.

Cantina Bentivoglio | Via Mascarella, 4b, 40126 Bologna | Google Map It

Tip: Download The Fork app before your trip to Italy. 

It is their version of Open Table and Resy. Just like it is here, you won't find all restaurants, but sometimes it does help in a pinch to get same-day reservations or farther in advance. 

We successfully found a couple of excellent restaurants here during our travels in Italy. 

Our one day in Bologna, Italy, was food-focused and terrific. Bologna is a city we could return to and spend more time exploring and trying multiple places to eat.

However, we hope this helped you decide and showed you that Bologna in a day is possible.

Bologna could be a great home base in Emilia Romagna. It’s a lively city with a central train station that can take you to other areas like Modena, Ferrara, Parma, and Florence.

Just keep in mind that if you are looking for a quieter destination to call home for an extended amount of time, Bologna may not be it.

Have you been to Bologna? What are you looking forward to?

Need more inspiration? Here are Inspiring Quotes About Italy: Your Next Foodie Destination

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