The lively and sprawling city of Bologna is one of Italy’s historical centers and the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Everywhere you look in Bologna, you’ll see impressive structures, incredible architecture, and buildings rich in history. With all the amazing sites to see and places to visit, it can be tough to plan a trip as you work out which are the most important destination. To make this much easier for you, we’ve come up with a list of the best things to do in Bologna.
Start at the Piazza Maggiore
You should start your trip off at the Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main public square, and the city’s social hub. The Piazza Maggiore is where you go in Bologna to see and to be seen, and there is always something new for you to try. This square is always bustling with activity from locals and visitors alike, so you could just spend hours there sipping on a coffee and watching life in Bologna go by. It is the best place to start Bologna’s city center walking tour.
You’ll find many examples of historical importance and Italian architecture along the edges of the square, including the Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo Communale, and Palazzo d’Accursio. It is also close to several hotels in Bologna. So whether you want to explore these stunning buildings or just grab dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants, it’s never a bad idea to head to the Piazza Maggiore if you’re unsure of what you should do next.
Visit San Petronio
While you’re taking in the culture at the Piazza Maggiore listed above, you’ll undoubtedly see the massive building that is San Petronio looming overhead. To this day, this incredible structure is the 10th-largest church in the world by total volume and is one of the must-do activities during any vacation to Bologna.
You won’t be able to miss it due to its size and its unique front fascia. The bottom half of the church is done in gorgeous finished marble, as opulent as you could imagine. But the top half of the building has remained unfinished for over 600 years, left in greyish-brown brick. The contrasting front facade makes it one of the most unique exteriors in all of Italy.
Once you get inside, you’ll be left awestruck by the sheer size of the structure. As the 10th-largest church in the world by volume, you can imagine just how big it is once you step foot inside. It’s an incredible experience and one that you definitely do not want to miss. There are also many accommodations near San Petronio.
Check Out the Archiginnasio and Anatomical Theater
Located in the Piazza Galvani, the Archiginnasio was built in the late 1500s as part of the University of Bologna all those years ago. This is one of the most important historic buildings in the entire city, and any trip to Bologna would be incomplete without stopping by to check it out.
The most notable aspect of the Archiginnasio, without a doubt, is the 17th-century Anatomical Theater. You read that right, the Anatomical Theater. This amazing area within the building houses an opulent, ornate table in the center, which was used to teach students how to cut open bodies, perform surgery, and learn everything there is to know about the human body. It is one of the best places to check out on the musical history tour in Bologna.
Climb the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers
To get some of the best views anywhere in Bologna, head to the famous Asinelli and Garisenda Towers. You might notice as you start catching a glimpse of these towers that the famous tower of Pisa is not the only Italian tower with a slight lean to it.
In fact, the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers in Bologna both lean as well! For comparison’s sake, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is just about 186 feet in height. Pretty tall, right? Asinelli Tower in Bologna stands at a whopping 318 feet in height, way taller than the famous tower of Pisa! These towers are also much less crowded than the tourist attraction that Pisa has become, so while you’re in Bologna, you should climb to the top for some of the best views of anywhere nearby.
Visit the St. Stephen Basilica
Comprising a few different churches and areas under its name, St. Stephen’s Basilica is somewhere that you don’t want to miss while you’re in Bologna. The buildings that make up this large basilica include St. John the Baptist, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Pilate’s courtyard.
With so many buildings making up the basilica, it’s easy to understand why it’s on this list. This complex of religious buildings is one of the most historically important in the whole city, with each church having its own history and story to tell. Tour the various buildings to take in the incredible artwork and get a feel for Bologna’s history.
Walk Down Via Drapperie
A quaint street through the city of Bologna, you might not think much of Via Drapperie if you were walking by. But if you take the time to truly appreciate everything on this little roadway, you’ll be in for quite the treat (literally!).
A tight cobblestone street, Via Drapperie is everything that you imagine when you think of medieval, historic Italy. The rough cobblestones are often out of place, and tightly packed stone buildings loom overhead and line the street. This is a great way to walk through town and experience the authentic character of Bologna.
And remember the treat we mentioned? Via Drapperie is most known for all the food shops, cafes, and restaurants that line the roadway. So no matter what you’re in the mood for, chances are high that you’ll find it somewhere along Via Drapperie!
Check Out the Views from Torre Prendiparte
If you get done visiting the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers, but you have the itch to explore more, make your next move and head to Torre Prendiparte. One of the other few remaining towers in their original form since construction, Torre Prendiparte towers above the Bologna skyline as it soars nearly 200 feet into the air.
For a truly unique experience, consider staying at the base of the tower itself, which has been remodeled into a bed and breakfast. After waking up from your cozy bedroom and enjoying a delicious homemade breakfast, climb to the top of the tower for unobstructed views of the city during the sunrise. It’s one of the coolest ways to spend a night in Bologna, hands down.
Visit the Bologna National Gallery
As you’re taking in Bologna’s culture at the Piazza Maggiore in the city center, take a few hours to explore the nearby Bologna National Gallery. This art gallery contains one of the biggest collections of Byzantine artwork in the entire world, as well as later works of art up until the 1700s.
The Bologna National Gallery itself is an architectural phenomenon, with vast stone construction and the unique ways that natural light is brought in through the many windows. But, of course, the main reason you’re visiting is for the art inside! The museum contains works of art spanning more than 500 years and includes pieces from famous Italian artists, including Raphael and Titian, among many others.
Go See the Oratory of Battuti
If you’re into history, religious history, or art, then making the trip to visit the Oratory of Battuti is a must while you’re in Bologna. The Oratory of Battuti is a small chapel housed within the much bigger church of Santa Maria della Vita.
While the encompassing church is something to marvel at in its own right, the Oratory steals the show once you’re inside. Within the chapel, you’ll find statues and sculptures of some of the most famous religious figures of Bologna’s history, as well as a painted ceiling that could rival Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel.
Ascend Monte della Guardia
If you get tired of the hustle and bustle of downtown Bologna, consider climbing the nearby hill known as Monte della Guardia to find a bit of zen high above the city. From the top of Monte della Guardia, you’ll be nearly 1,000 feet above the rest of Bologna, high above the crowds of tourists and locals below.
From here, you will get the best views of not only Bologna but the picturesque Italian countryside all around this relatively small town. It’s a pretty easy climb to make, taking you less than twenty minutes to ascend to the top. And once you get there, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, and the views will take your breath away.