Home TravelsItaly A weekend in Bologna, Italy – the Medieval Manhattan

A weekend in Bologna, Italy – the Medieval Manhattan

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A fresh morning walk under hundreds of beautiful porticoes. Little Anna is jumping and running around, happy about being let to walk and run by herself. We are all enjoying the start of the weekend in Bologna, Italy, and feel proud of our good choice of destination. Maybe you have all heard about the delicious food in Bologna. Well, it fits perfectly into our idea of tourism and we were really enthusiastic going to the most delicious city in Europe (or at least in Italy). However, after having a rich breakfast in our hotel, we needed to do some other activity before going for lunch. Well, in Bologna this is not a difficult task because the city has a lot to offer to travellers. So this is how our family weekend in Bologna started.


Buona giornata, Bologna!

We had exactly two days – a full Saturday and Sunday – to meet Bologna for the first time. They started with a fresh waking up in the quiet hotel in the morning, only Anna jumping on the bed and making noise. We quickly got ready and went for breakfast.
I am usually angry that in most hotels the coffee included in the breakfast is terrible. But this time we were surprised to have a wonderful Italian cappuccino, delicious croissants and home-made cakes. My wife was also impressed by the diversity of healthy foods available. We did enjoy our breakfast, finished the cappuccinos and went for a walk.

[info]Bologna proved to be an expensive city to stay. The prices of the hotels tend to increase a lot approaching the arrival date. After an extensive research, we chose Savhotel for our stay. It is located a bit outside the city centre but is really convenient and offers a wonderful price-quality rate. We really enjoyed our stay there./ If you prefer Booking.com/[/info]

The city of porticoes

Wherever you look around in the centre of Bologna, you see porticoes. Some of them look marvellous, painted with beautiful colours and figures. Others are simpler but still charming. There are almost 40 km of porticoes around Bologna. They are both beautiful and convenient because they offer shelter in the rainy days and shadow in the hot summer. They also act as sidewalks where you can let your child walk, jump and run by itself without worrying too much that the street is just a step away.

Porticoes - one of our favourite Bologna attractions

Porticoes – one of our favourite Bologna attractions

So we started our first day in Bologna with a small walk by Via Zamboni to Piazza Maggiore, where our real exploration of the city started.

Via Zamboni

Арки из Болоня

Porticoes in Bologna

Piazza Maggiore

All walks in Bologna start from Piazza Maggiore. It was also our first main stop because we had to visit the tourist information office Bologna Welcome and collect our Bologna Welcome Cards – a very convenient way to explore the city. No matter what the purpose of your visit to Bologna is, Piazza Maggiore is a must-see place, bearing the spirit of the city with its many visitors. Surrounded by the San Petronio basilica and lavish palaces, it is really the beating heart of Bologna.

Piazza Magiore - the starting point of our weekend in Bologna

Piazza Maggiore

When you are on the square and walk around, you see:

    •  San Petronio church
    • Palazzo del Banchi;
    • Palazzo del Podestà;
    • Palazzo d’Accursio – former city hall, now a museum;
  •  Palazzo dei Notai;

Anna in front of San Petronio church, Piazza Magiore, Bologna, Italy

Anna in front of San Petronio church, Piazza Magiore

Palazzo del Podestà, Piazza Magiore, Bologna, Italy

Palazzo del Podestà

Palazzo del Banchi, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy

Palazzo del Banchi

Piazza Maggiore was built in the 13th century and its contemporary look dates back to the 15th century. Just next to Piazza Maggiore is another famous square – Piazza Nettuno with the famous fountain of Neptun. However, at the moment the fountain is under reconstruction and you can see it only with a guided tour at 3 pm every day.

The fountain of Neptun - under reconstruction, Bologna, Italy

The fountain of Neptun – under reconstruction, Bologna, Italy

[info]The Bologna Welcome Cards are a wonderful way to explore Bologna. There are two types of cards that both provide free entrance to most of the museums in the city, a free guided tour, some other attractions as well as discounts in certain shops and restaurants. We got the blue cards (costing 30 EUR each) that include also a day ticket for the tourist Hop on – Hop off bus, travelling from Piazza Maggiore through the most interesting places in Bologna. If you are a fan of museums, guided tours and want to explore a maximum number of attractions during your weekend in Bologna, the Bologna Welcome cards are a great way to do this.[/info]

San Petronio church and the view from the terrace

Arriving on Piazza Maggiore, you will imminently see the tens or hundreds of people standing on the stairs in front of the San Petronio church. We could not resist joining them and spending a few minutes feeling the spirit of Bologna. Saint Petronius is the patron saint of Bologna. He was a bishop of the city in the 5th century and he built the Santo Stefano church – one of the most impressive buildings in Bologna and not only. The basilica of San Petronio itself is among the largest churches in the world. Its construction started in 1390 and finished in 1663. The basilica was projected to be greater than Rome’s San Peter, but the funds were not enough to complete the project. So, the facade was left covered with marble tiles only partially, which is visible until today.

San Petronio basilica church, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy

San Petronio basilica church

San Petronio church is heavily guarded because there have been several attempts of attack there. Among the paintings in the church is a fresco depicting prophet Muhammad in Hell, that is considered offensive by Islamists.

In San Petronio church you can also see one of the largest astronomical instruments in the world – Cassini’s meridian. The 66.8 m line was calculated and designed in 1655 by astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini. It does not indicate the time but instead the day of the year as well as the length of the solar year.

La meridiana di Cassini

La meridiana di Cassini – Cassini’s meridian in San Petronio church

The skyline of Bologna from the panoramic terrace

At the back of San Petronio church is the entrance to one of the most visited attractions by tourists in Bologna – the panoramic terrace. It is a relatively new tourist spot, created in the recent years during the reconstruction of the church. The terrace is managed and maintained by a private foundation and the money from the entrance fee go for the reconstruction of San Petronio.

The lift to the panoramic terrace at San Petronio church

The lift to the panoramic terrace at San Petronio church

The view from the panoramic terrace at San Petronio church

The view from the panoramic terrace at San Petronio church

On Sunday morning, there were not many tourists there and we quickly entered the lift that took us 54 m above the ground. Once there, you can enjoy the stunning view to whole Bologna and the neighbouring hills.

The view from the panoramic terrace at San Petronio church, Bologna, Italy

The view from the panoramic terrace at San Petronio church

The Seven Churches (Santo Stefano church)

You could spent a whole day wandering by the streets of Bologna. We got lost many times but after a few hours we got used to them and even met some friends. If is wasn’t Rossi, we could miss the beautiful Santo Stefano church. But luckily, she was more prepared than us and took us to this amazing place.

The Seven Churches - Santo Stefano (Sains Stephen) church in Bologna, Italy

The Seven Churches – Santo Stefano (Sains Stephen) church in Bologna

Santo Stefano church is among the oldest in the city and there is still confusion about its creation date. According to one version, its construction started around 430 by the orders of Saint Petronius, at the time bishop of Bologna. He wanted to raise a building that should be divided into seven churches to represent the places where the Passion of Christ had taken place. Another story tell that Santo Stefano was built on behalf of Saint Petronius above a pagan temple. It is believed that the goal was to copy the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

I could say that Santo Stefano church really reminded me of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is one of the most interesting places in Bologna and a must-see, according to me. Entrance is free. The square in front of the church is also a popular gathering point for tourists and a place to have a coffee or another drink. However, there you can drink probably the most expensive coffee in Bologna – the espresso costed 2.50 euro (the average price around Italy is 1 – 1.5 euro).

The Manhattan of the Middle Ages

Walking around the city centre of Bologna, you will always see a high tower somewhere around. In the city there are more than 20 towers existing today. This is what is survived from the heritage of the Middle ages, when Bologna looked like Manhattan with its tens of towers.

The skyline of Bologna, Italy

The skyline of Bologna

In the middle ages building towers was very fashionable in Bologna. It is not absolutely clear why so many towers were needed but it is known that there were between 80 and 100 skyscrapers in the city. Some of them were used as fortifications or observation spots. However, others were built by local powerful families only to demonstrate their influence. But no matter how fashionable those towers looked like, they were also very vulnerable to fires and lightnings. So, a few centuries later the local aristocracy started to demonstrate its power by building lavish palaces and abandoning the towers.

One of the landmarks of Bologna is the Due Torri (Two towers). The towers of Asinelli and Garisenda are the most famous among their siblings today. Located just metres from each other, it is thought that they were built in 12 century by two neighbouring families.

Asinelli tower in Bologna

Asinelli tower in Bologna

Today the Asinelli tower is the bigger one, standing 97.2 m high. It is usually accessible to tourist to climb to the top but during our trip it was closed for renovations. Through the time Asinelli was used as a prison and as a scientific observation point. The lower Garisenda is 48 m high and leaning to one direction. It is known that initially it was about 60 m high but hat to be lowered because of the unstable soil underneath.

Museum of the history of Bologna – Palazzo Pepoli

We are usually not the kind of tourists that want to see a maximum number of attractions during our stay. Rushing from one museum to another is not our strategy. Instead, we prefer to pick one or two and dedicate our attention to them. This is what we did in Bologna, too. One of the two picks was Palazzo Pepoli – the museum of history of Bologna.

In Palazzo Pepoli you could walk around the history of Bologna just like in a movie. There are different halls dedicated to the many faces of Bologna – the city of water, the city of artists, the city of food, the city of towers, etc. The museum is very attractive and offers a lot of multimedia representing the history of the city. If you are keen to learn the history of Bologna, it will be really interesting for you. One of the top attractions of the museum is the Time machine that takes the visitors to a virtual walk around medieval Bologna.

The oldest university in the world

Another major attraction in Bologna is the Archiginnasio – the building of one of the oldest universities in the world. The building is located just next to San Petronio church and today hosts the municipal library and the Anatomical theatre where anatomy lectures were being held in 17 and 18th century. The hall was almost destroyed during WW2 but nowadays it is completely reconstructed and absolutely worth visiting.

Archiginnasio, The Anatomic Theatre in Bologna, Italy

Archiginnasio, The Anatomic Theatre

In the middle of the Anatomical theatre you can see the table where dissections of people and animals were made during the lectures. Around it are the benches for the students, surrounded by statues of Hippocrates and other ancient wise men.

The channels of Bologna

Once Bologna looked like a little Venice – crossed by many channels that acted as a transport system. A part of the old city was even turned into a harbour. There were two main channels entering the city – Savena and Reno. Later they were connecting, making the channel Navile that connected Bologna with other Italian cities to the north.

Nowadays most of the channels are under the streets. You can see a small section of Reno channel from the observation point on Via Pella. The channels don’t look very impressive but they bear the spirit of their times. If you are really interested about this section of Bologna’s history, you can join a guided tour that can take you underground to see more from the channels.

Via dell’Indipendenza

During weekends and official holidays the centre of Bologna becomes very walkers-friendly. Some of the main streets are closed for traffic and pedestrians can enjoy the full beauty of the city. Among them is the main street in central Bologna – Via Indipendenza. It connects Piazza Maggiore with the central train station. Via Independenza is a beautiful wide street surrounded by two rows of porticoes. The street was completed in 1890 and today hosts one of the most expensive and luxurious shops in the city.

Via Indipendenza - the main street of Bologna, Italy

Via Indipendenza – the main street of Bologna

Via dell'Indipendenza

Via dell’Indipendenza

[info]During weekends some of the main streets in the historic part are closed for traffic and the routes of the public transport differ from those on weekdays.[/info]

Via Rizzoli

Via Rizzoli

Pilgrimage to the Virgin of San Luca

The Sanctuary of the Virgin of San Luca is located on a hill near Bologna. It is an important pilgrimage spot for Christians. A church on the hill has existed for centuries. According to the legend, in 12th century a pilgrim from the Byzantine Empire came to the city with the icon of Virgin Mary from Saint Sofia church in Constantinople. The bishop of Bologna ordered the icon to be held in a chapel on the nearby hill where later the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca was built.

The sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca near Bologna - in the back

The sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca near Bologna – in the background

The basilica is a popular destination for believers. It can be reached by a portico almost 4 km long, starting just outside the city. There is also an asphalt road to the sanctuary. Tourist could go there also by the tourist train San Luca Express, departing from Piazza Maggiore.

Let’s talk about food and where to eat in Bologna

If I had begun this article with my thoughts about food in Bologna, I would never write about anything else. This is why I left my favourite topic for later. The image of Bologna as a food capital of Europe is an important point when you are planning your trip. And for this reason, it is not easy at all to decide where to eat in Bologna.

So we were determined to try the most famous local delicacies, including mortadella, tortellini in broth and, of course, pasta Bolognese (tagliatelle in Ragu sauce). We also tried the locally popular wines Lambrusco and Pignoletto and we loved them both. The Lambrusco is a surprising sparkling light red wine that goes perfectly with pasta. The white pignoletto was also very nice.

We were lucky to try some of the best places where to eat in Bologna and enjoy the local food at its best. We would recommend them to anyone.


Tip:  Most of the restaurants in central Bologna are pre-booked for dinner and lunch, especially during weekends. So if you have no reservation, you might need to walk a while until you find a place where they can offer you a table. Also, do not forget that in Italy you cannot eat anytime. The lunch hours are between 12 and 15 h and the dinner starts no earlier than 19 – 19.30. If you need to eat something between 15 and 19 h, your best chance is a sandwich. In most restaurants you can make a booking by phone or email, preferably a few days earlier. If you do not speak Italian, use the email or call during the opening hours when waiters speaking English are usually available.


Trattoria Anna Maria

Trattoria Anna Maria is a legendary restaurant in Bologna, established in 1985. Its owner and founder Anna Maria is an extraordinary person that we were really happy to meet. The restaurant is dedicated to the traditional Bolognese food that was cooked in the local families centuries ago. Every meal in the restaurant is prepared by an old recipe. Anna Maria is not letting her cooks change neither the recipes, nor the technology of preparation. Everything is still hand-made and almost no machinery is welcome in the kitchen. Here we tried the most delicious broth in our lives and the real Ragu sauce that we will remember forever. The story of Anna Maria is amazing and we wrote a separate article about her: Trattoria Anna Maria – the most authentic place to feel tasty Bologna

Trattoria Anna Maria in Bologna, Italy

Trattoria Anna Maria in Bologna, Italy

Trattoria Anna Maria is located in central Bologna, near the university area and just minutes from the main sights including the Due Torri and Piazza Maggiore. Here are the directions:

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Trattoria Anna Maria

Via Belle Arti, 17/A

Tel. +39 051 266894



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Opening hours:

Lunch: 12,30 – 15 h.

Dinner: 19,30 – 23h

Monday – Closed

Credit cards accepted


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Pizzeria Belle Arti

Pizzeria Belle Arti was recommended to us when we visited Anna Maria. There was no way we left Italy without eating pizza. The restaurant is located just metres from Anna Maria, on the opposite side of the street.

The pizza guys in Belle Arti

The pizza guys in Belle Arti

Belle Arti is a family-run restaurant offering both pizzas and other local delicacies like pasta, together with various seafood and meat meals. The lowest hall of the restaurant, located in the basement, is reserved for special occasions and groups. There you can see a centuries old well and a small winery. The building has existed since 13-14 century. Once it hosted the kitchens and stables of a nearby palace.

We tried pizzas and local homemade wine in Belle Arti and everything was wonderful. Watching what is served to other guests, everything looked very delicious.

Pizzeria Belle Arti is a wonderful choice for a dinner but it is also a very popular place that tends to get crowded after 8 pm. So it is recommended that you made a reservation in advance, especially in the weekends.

The winery at Pizzeria Belle Arti

The winery at Pizzeria Belle Arti

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Trattoria Pizzeria Belle Arti

Via delle Belle Arti, 14

Tel. +(39)051 225581

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Ice cream

You have probably heard legends of the Italian ice cream – Gelato. We bought ice cream several times during our stay in Bologna from a small gelato shop in the centre – Venchi Cioccolato – Gelato. You have discount there with Bologna Welcome card.

Italian ice cream - gelato - is legendary delicious

Italian ice cream – gelato – is legendary delicious

Where to stay in Bologna

Savhotel proved to be a wonderful place to stay in Bologna and contributed a lot to our image of the city. This 4-star hotel offers everything a family would need for a perfect stay – unbelievable cleanliness, wonderful service, excellent breakfast, spacious rooms and bathrooms. There is also a panoramic terrace on the rooftop, offering stunning view to Bologna. The hotel is very children-friendly, offering baby cots if you need. We loved everything there and we would recommend it to anyone.

Savhotel is located in Fiera district, about 2 km from the centre, on a very convenient location. The taxi from the airport to Savhotel costs around 18 euro. From the hotel to the city centre you can go with bus 25 – about 10 minute ride. With more enthusiasm, you can even go walking to the centre in under 1 hour.

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Transport in Bologna

The best way to explore Bologna’s historical centre is walking or biking. You can hire a bicycle from your hotel or a travel agency and some hotels even offer free bicycles to their guests.

The public transport is convenient if you are staying outside the historical centre. However, have in mind that the traffic in the central area is restricted, especially on weekends and holidays. So get ready for some walking. If you need to use the public transport, the single ticket costs 1.3 euro and should be validated in the vehicle upon entrance. There is a 24-hour ticket costing 5 euro. You can buy single tickets from some newspaper kiosks and from Tabacchi (shops for cigarettes, gambling and other stuff, marked with a big T sign). You can also buy a ticket from inside the bus but it costs 1.5 euro. The day ticket may be obtained from the Tabacchi and the offices of public transport. The etiquette in the Bologna public transport is the following: getting on from the front and back doors and getting off from the middle doors.

[info]If you plan your weekend in Bologna you can download a city map from the cite of Bologna Welcome.[/info]

Many sincere thanks to Savhotel, Bologna Welcome, Trattoria Anna Maria and Pizzeria Belle Arti for partnering with us and making our weekend in Bologna unforgettable.  The services we tested and reviewed were provided to us complimentary, but all opinions and thoughts are as always our own. 


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Svetoslav Dimitrov 2017/05/16 - 9:12 AM

Ah, what a scrumptious article you have written <3

I wanted some more information about the university, buuuut!

In addition, I was not aware that there are channels in Bologna!

I won't comment the food as I am following a specific dietary regime at the moment, but when I am done, I will come back to salivate again!

The city looks like having a really unique vibe! What struck you most?

Maria Andreeva 2017/05/16 - 2:11 PM

If we had decided to write more about all the interesting places we visited in Bologna, I should have written a book. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend much time at the university because the library is closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday and we could just briefly visit the Anatomic Theatre (really impressive place). There are so many more places to visit like a museum of musical instruments and an industrial museum but.. next time. And what struck us most – it was the whole atmosphere, really welcoming. The porticoes are so wonderful and romantic that you could spend a day there just walking around.

Svetoslav Dimitrov 2017/05/16 - 5:02 PM

Well, a book wouldn’t be such a bad idea, would it? :))

Ah, I see – that’s a pity about the university as it really must be exhilarating to walk its alleys, knowing they are most ancient worldwide.

The Italians are known for being hospitable. At least in the South, he-he.

I loved the porticoes in Turin!

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