If you’re heading to Italy in search of ancient historical tales, scrumptious food and vibrant streets filled with live musicians, then two days in Bologna won’t disappoint. You’ll find all of these things and more, and hopefully, capture some fantastic memories to take home with you.
After spending some time in this wonderful city, I’ve condensed all of the best things to do and see into a 2-day itinerary. This whistle-stop tour of the Bologna also uncovers some excellent places to eat and stay and walks you through everything you need to know ahead of your trip. You’ll learn how to get there and travel around, the best time of year to visit, and much more.
Where is Bologna
Bologna is situated in the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy and it’s one of the prettiest cities in Europe. As well as being the largest city in the region, it’s also the capital.
If you were to look at the map, you’d see the well-known cities of Milan, Venice and Florence as the three points of a triangle. Bologna sits within this triangle and is a great base for those looking to take day trips to these larger cities.
Below is a map of Bologna.
How to get to Bologna
If you’re heading to Bologna by plane, then the best airport to head to is Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport. It’s a fairly small airport but has frequent flights to and from a lot of the major cities around the world.
From the airport to the city centre, you can either take a taxi or the Marconi Express train. The latter is the quickest and most cost-effective.
A taxi will cost around €17 euros and take approximately 15 minutes to reach the centre.
The Marconi Express costs €15 euros for a return ticket and takes 7 minutes to reach Bologna Central Station. The tickets can be purchased inside the station on the day.
Check flights to Bologna: Omio
From Bologna Central Station to the city centre:
From Bologna Central Station, you will either need to walk for approximately 7 minutes, get a taxi, or you will need to hop on a bus for a few minutes which costs €2.
The bus leaves from outside the station doors and the ticket is purchased on a self-serve machine on the bus. You can pay in coins or by card. If you’re paying by card then you will need to bear in mind that only one ticket can be purchased per card. If there are two or more of you, then you’ll need to have multiple cards that work abroad.
If you’re catching the train to Bologna, then you can use trainline.com to pre-book your tickets from your current destination. There is only one station in Bologna so there shouldn’t be any confusion.
You’ll then need to follow the same steps as above in the ‘From Bologna Central Station to the city centre‘ section.
If you’re already in Italy then undoubtedly the cheapest way to travel to Bologna will be by bus/coach. Though, of course, this will take longer.
You can use trainline.com to discover the timetable and tickets, or you can book directly through FlixBus or Itabus which are the two main providers who service transport to Bologna.
The bus will arrive at the Bologna Bus Station, also known as Bologna Autostazione. This is closer to the city centre, so you’re the best walking from here.
If you’ve already got a car, then it’s just the fuel and car parking that you’ll need to worry about. There are plenty of cheap car parks around Bologna and congestion around the city is rare.
If you need to rent a car, then my go-to platform is Rentalcar.com. They take away all the hassle of trawling through multiple sights by collating all of the best deals in one place so that you can be sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
One thing to bear in mind is that often, it’s quicker to get a high-speed train between major cities in Italy. For example, Bologna to Florence is only 37 minutes by train but takes over an hour to drive. Similarly, Bologna to Rome takes as little as 1 hour and 20 minutes by train, but 3 hours and 40 minutes by car.
Best time to visit Bologna
The best time to visit Bologna is May to mid-June or mid-September to October. This is when you can expect the temperatures to be warm, but not sweltering. It will be slightly less busy, but still a nice atmosphere.
If you’re thinking about heading to Bologna outside of these times, then below is what you can expect throughout the year:
- November | December | January | February
Temperatures below 10 degrees, warm clothes required and few tourists
- March | April | October
Temperatures between 15 and 20 degrees, jumper weather and some tourists
- May | June | September
Temperatures in the 20s, warmer clothes required for the evenings and a nice atmosphere
- July | August
30 degrees +, humid, shorts and t-shirt weather during the day and night, vibrant atmosphere
How to see Bologna in two days
Bologna itinerary day 1
Breakfast at Pappare’ Bologna
Location: Pappare’ Bologna
The day starts in one of Bologna’s best breakfast spots – Pappare’ Bologna. It’s a quirky cafe that serves a whole lot of scrummy food.
Whether you fancy treating yourself to some pancakes or pastries, you fancy a fresh juice to kick-start the day, or you’re looking for something a bit more hearty ahead of a day of adventures, Pappare’ Bologna has it all.
My personal favourite was their vegan chocolate and raspberry croissants. Honestly, the best thing ever. 100% recommend and I am not even vegan.
This is also a great spot if you’re looking to do some work on your trip since they have some desk-style seating, which also makes it popular among university students.
Visit the historical sights of Bologna
Bologna played a huge part in the story of Italian history and this is prominent throughout the city. This morning you’ll walk between the landmarks in a logical order and not only marvel at the impressive architecture but absorb a tonne of information about their past and present.
I’ll take you through each site now, however, you’ll also find a downloadable map in the next section of this guide. You’ll want to save this to your phone and click through the pins alphabetically to guide you to your next destination. Each location will have a red camera as the pin, with a description containing the below information about the sites. This is so that when you reach the destination you can easily read about it, before moving on to the next.
Alternatively, you can re-visit this page on day 1 of your Bologna itinerary and I’ll leave a link to each of the locations.
Most of these sites are free to visit, however, some include a small fee to enter. I’ll let you by leaving a link to a ticket operator if this is the case so that you can budget this into your trip and you can decide whether you want to include it in your itinerary.
Two Towers (Le Due Torri)
Location: The Two Towers
The Two Towers are known as Le Due Torri in Italian and they are one of the most prominent landmarks in the city. They’re known as Asinelli and Garisenda – the latter is the smaller of the two and noticeably leans to one side, much like the leaning tower of Pisa, due to yielding in the ground.
It’s thought that these were built in the 1100s as a competition between two families who were trying to achieve higher power since the height of a building was a way to show wealth. As such, there were hundreds of skyscraper-like buildings built across the city, many of which remain today.
Garisenda has been privately owned over the years with little use due to its instability. During the 19th century, The Municipality of Bologna took ownership of the tower and today it continues to be vacant.
Asinelli has a lot more history to it; the 14th century saw the tower used as a prison, where those who broke the law were often hung. Once World War l & ll hit, it became one of the best lookout spots to identify attacks on the city and conduct rescue operations from.
Today, it’s still used as a lookout spot for tourists to capture some of the best views of the city. However, with 498 steps to get there, it’s no mean feat!
Walk to next location: 5-minutes
Location: Biblioteca Salaborsa
Biblioteca Salaborsa is the local library that is not only filled with over 300,000 books but also contains over 2000 years of history. There are a number of archaeological sites for visitors to explore and marvel at here, including Etruscan and Roman ruins.
It’s free to enter the library and explore alone, however, those looking for a free guided tour of the archaeological excavation will need to book onto this ahead of time.
Booking information: Free Guided Tour
Walk to next location: less than 1-minute
Fountain of Neptune
Location: Fountain of Neptune
The Fountain of Neptune is an example of late Renaissance work by Tommaso Laureti in 1565 and represents the Greek God of water. He was instructed to create the fountain by Charles Borromeo who was archbishop of Milan at the time, as a way to congratulate his Uncle who has recently been elected as the Pope.
Walk to next location: 2-minutes
Basilica di San Petronio
Location: Basilica di San Petronio
Basilica di San Petronio is one of the most interesting buildings in Bologna that dominates the main square. It’s instantly recognisable not only because of its size but also due to the architecture which is quite obviously unfinished.
The construction of Basilica di San Petronio started in 1390, yet progress came to a halt for over 120 years due to complexities in the construction. In 1514, work on the building resumed under new guidance from Arduino Degli Arriguzzi, yet his ambitions for the building were much bigger; he wanted the Basilica to be larger than the St Peters Basilica in Rome.
Ultimately, this target was never achieved, and then Giacomo Ranuzzi stepped in, who again, failed to achieve the completion of the façade which left it only half covered in marble.
Today, the Basilica is one of the most significant churches in Bologna and visitors can explore the inside for free every day from 8.30 AM to 1.30 PM and from 3.00 PM to 6.30 PM.
Walk to the next location: 1-minute
Sanctuary of Santa Maria Della Vita
Location: Sanctuary of Santa Maria Della Vita
The Sanctuary of Santa Maria Della Vita is situated in the food district of Quadrilatero. If you look at Bologna from above, it’s instantly recognisable due to its large dome-shaped roof. On the inside, it’s just as impressive. With grand intricately carved marble and paintings in rich colours.
During war times, The Sanctuary of Santa Maria Della Vita was used as a hospital and, as such, there are a number of sculptures that represent this around the sanctuary.
Whilst the entrance to the sanctuary is free, there is a €4 fee to visit the museum which houses a further collection of statues named ‘Sorrow over Dead Christ’ which were created by Niccolò dell’Arca (an early Renaissance sculptor) in the 15th century.
Overall, this is one of the best and most impressive pieces of history to visit in Bologna that, although in the centre, is tucked down a quiet street and is very peaceful.
Walk to the next location: 4-minutes
Palazzo Bolognini Amorini Salina
Location: Palazzo Bolognini Amorini Salina
Palazzo Bolognini Amorini Salina is situated in the heart of the city and still, to this day, owned by a 16th-century Senatorial family.
The building is a prominent Renaissance building that has a series of busts protruding from the façade, many of which are Gods and warriors. However, the most significant is known as The Demon of Palazzo Salina. If you look closely, this should be easily identifiable. It’s unclear what the reason is for the demon, and some even believe that it is a satyr. Yet, whatever it is, there are a number of the same mystery faces dotted around the city that still remains in question today.
Walk to next location: 1-minute
The Basilica of Santo Stefano
Location: The Basilica of Santo Stefano
The Basilica of Santo Stefano is a very pretty little church in the city. It’s what’s known as a minor basilica and ‘Sette Chiese’ in Italian, which translates to ‘Seven Churches’.
There are actually 6 different parts to the Church, all of which were constructed at different times. Whilst there are multiple theories when it comes to the origins of the Church, the most widely accepted is that it was built by Petronius between the 10th and 13th centuries.
The Basilica of Santo Stefano is open between 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM to 7:30 PM every day except for Mondays. It also closes one hour earlier between November and April. It’s free to enter, however, there is a small donation box at the exit for those wishing to contribute.
Walk to next location: 7-minutes
Basilica di San Domenico
Location: Basilica di San Domenico
The Basilica di San Domenico is one of the most notable churches in Bologna. It was primarily built in the 1200s to house the remains of San Domenico di Guzman who was the founder of the Order of the Preachers, which is also known as the Dominicans. The monument containing his remains is known as the Arca di San Domenico which was built by a number of artists, including the well-known Michelangelo.
You’ll also notice a number of other sculptures around the church which were also created by Michelangelo, as well as Nicola Pisano and Alfonso Lombardi.
The church is incredibly grand on both the inside and out, yet one of the quietest in the city which is surprising given the fact that it’s free to enter.
Walking tour itinerary map
Lunch at Osteria Bartolini
Location: Osteria Bartolina
After all that walking around, it’s now time for some well-deserved lunch. And, there is no better place than Osteria Bartolina.
This cute little seafood restaurant is tucked down one of Bologna’s small side streets and offers the most gorgeous setting. Inside, its high ceilings and modern interior make it feel grand. Outside, its quaint garden-style terrace sheltered by an enormous tree that’s hooked up to dozens of fairy lights ooze romance.
You’ll need to make it to Osteria Bartolina no later than 1:30 PM since they close for the afternoon at 2:30 PM.
Sanctuary of San Luca
Next, it’s time to head to the mesmerising Sanctuary of San Luca. You’ll have probably already spotted this atop the hill from a distance, as it can be seen from many places all over the city – including the airport.
There are two ways to get to the Sanctuary of San Luca: walk or take the San Luca Express.
For the sake of time (since you’re only in Bologna for 2 days) this itinerary opts for the San Luca Express. Plus, the walk is super steep and on a hot day, you’ll be thankful that you didn’t go for this option.
You’ll need to head to the Piazza Maggiore which is a 7-minute walk from Osteria Bartolina and where the San Luca Express departs from. You can purchase tickets on the day at the departing station, or ahead of time. You can also choose to combine this with a food tour if you wish.
On the San Luca Express, you’ll be given an audio headset that will provide you with information about the history of the surrounding area as you head up to the Sanctuary of San Luca. I won’t go into that now, as it will spoil it, but it’s an interesting listen that provides useful background knowledge on the city.
Once you arrive at the Sanctuary of San Luca, you’re free to wander around the site and admire the stunning orange architecture as well as the breathtaking views that stretch not only over the city but across the nearby hills, too.
Once you’ve finished exploring, you’ll return to the San Luca Express and head back to the Piazza Maggiore.
One thing to bear in mind is that the return service is on a first come first serve basis, so if you get off the train to explore the Sanctuary of San Luca, you may find that another guest has taken your seat and you will have to wait for the next train. I’d recommend asking for the daily timetable before you go on this trip to ensure you don’t get caught out by this.
Ice cream at Gelateria Gianni and live music
Location: Gelateria Gianni
Without a doubt, Gelateria Gianni serves some of the best ice creams in the city.
Whether you love traditional, exotic or speciality flavours, this place is hard to beat. I was in Bologna for a lot longer the 2 days, and think I swung by here almost every day. I dread to think of the calories I consumed, but hey, you’re on holiday and you’re doing heaps of walking.
My personal favourite is the mango cheesecake flavour, but the Kinder Bueno is a close second. And, since you automatically get two scoops, one of each is always good.
Once you’ve taken your pick, you’ll want to head along Via Rizzoli, which is the main street through the city. More often than not, there will be a few buskers playing live music. Take a seat on the curbside, enjoy your ice cream and sway to the rhythm.
Relax and freshen up
After a jam-packed first day exploring Bologna, you’ll no doubt want to rest up for an hour or so before you head back out to see what the city has to offer at night.
Sunset on San Petronio’s terrace
Now that you’re feeling refreshed, it’s time to head to the terrace of San Petronio’s for sunset. You’ll have been to San Petronio earlier in the day and no doubt been wowed by the impressive yet unusual architecture. However, you won’t have seen the spectacular views from the terrace, which are even more impressive at sunset.
To get to the terrace, you’ll have to climb the stairs or take the elevator. The terrace is only open on Saturdays and bank holidays, with the last entrance usually around 6 PM. As such, you’ll need to be visiting Italy on the right day and at the right time of year to experience sunset here.
If your trip doesn’t tie in with these timings, then an alternative view is from Piazzale di San Michele in Bosco. This is approximately a 30-minute walk from Bologna and a bit of a hill but offers some great views. Alternatively, you could hop on the number 30 bus.
Cost of access to San Petronio’s terrace: €3-5
Dinner at Caffè Mercato Bologna
Location: Caffè Mercato Bologna
After a stunning sunset, it’s then onto dinner in an authentic Italian restaurant that’s tucked away in one of Bologna’s colourful and bustling alleyways.
It’s not fancy, but its picnic blanket table cloths and rickety wooden chairs are charming and the traditional Italian food is local produce that’s cooked fantastically. There really isn’t much more you could want from a dining experience in Bologna.
Bologna itinerary day 2
A light breakfast and coffee at Caffè Terzi Bologna
Location: Caffè Terzi Bologna
To start your day, you’ll head to Caffè Terzi Bologna to grab a pastry and coffee before heading on a food tour.
Caffè Terzi Bologna pride itself on serving high-quality coffee and I have to admit, no other coffee in Bologna seemed to live up to the one served here. To compliment your coffee, they serve a variety of cakes and pastries which all look mouth-wateringly fantastic. The custard croissant was my go-to most mornings on this trip and I have no regrets.
Since Bologna is known as the food capital in Italy, it would be criminal not to include a food tour in your itinerary.
Of course, you can always roam the streets of Bologna and try bits and bobs here and there. However, a food tour is usually guided by a local who takes you to the best spots that you will likely miss. You’ll also be provided with a provide you with a wealth of information that would otherwise go unknown.
There are a variety of food tours available in and around Bologna to suit every budget. Below are some of the ones which I considered, however ultimately I went for the self-guided food tasting tour as I was on a budget and I like to have the flexibility to explore at my own pace.
- Self-guided Food Tasting Tour with Vouchers
On this self-guided food tour around Bologna, you’ll be given a map of the city and a bunch of vouchers to collect your various different samples of famous food around the city. You’ll get tortellini, meats, ice cream, wine and much more.
Check prices: Bologna: Self-Guided Food Tasting Tour with Vouchers
- Taste Local Specialties on a Guided Walking Tour
On this guided walking tour, a local will take you to all of the best spots around the city and you’ll be given the chance to try samples of the food on offer. You’ll likely be in a small group and be required to wear a headset so that you can hear your guide clearly over the hustle and bustle of the city.
Check prices: Bologna: Taste Local Specialties on a Guided Walking Tour
- Emilia Excellence Food Tour
The Emilia Excellence Food Tour is slightly different to the above tours since it’s a 7-hour day trip from Bologna and offers a behind-the-scenes look at how things like cheese, vinegar and wine is made in the region. It’s more expensive, but this will be reflected in the service you receive. You’ll be collected at 8 AM and chauffeured around to each tour, before being provided with a delicious lunch and dropped back at your hotel at 2:30 PM.
If you’ve got the budget for this one, then this 5-star tour is unlikely to disappoint.
Check prices: From Bologna: Emilia Excellence Food Tour
Lunch at Salumeria Simoni
Location: Salumeria Simoni
If you didn’t opt for the Emilia Excellence Food Tour, then it’s now time to grab some lunch. Since you’ll have been snacking all morning, you’ll be heading to a spot that does some wonderful paninis stuffed full of local meats and cheese.
Salumeria Simoni is tucked down a charismatic alleyway in the Quadrilatero area of Bologna, which is where all of the local markets and traditional food stores are. It’s cheap and cheerful, yet tasty and filling.
Museum of San Colombano
Location: Museum of San Colombano
If you’re into your musical instruments then this will be right up your street. And, even if you’re not, it’s is well worth the visit.
The Museum of San Colombano is a real hidden gem. Not only does it house many historical and impressive musical instruments, but the setting is phenomenal. Whether you’re interested in admiring the painted pianos or the intricate detail of the walls, this place will no doubt impress.
It’s worth noting that the museum is closed on a Monday and Tuesday, unless it’s a bank holiday. Tickets can be purchased on the day.
Location: Finestrella di Via Piella
Little Venice is a tiny orange door in the wall which opens up to reveal a canal running through the city between colourful buildings. Its official name is Finestrella di Via Piella, yet it’s often referred to as Little Venice since it somewhat resembles Venice.
Heading here is little more than a picturesque sight, and whilst it’s almost certainly an Instagram hotspot, it’s very charming nonetheless.
Before leaving this spot, be sure to cross the road and look at the river from over the bridge. If you look directly ahead, you’ll see a gate with lots of locks on. This is where couples have ‘locked their love’, much like they do in Paris.
Relax and freshen up
Before heading out to dinner, head back to the hotel to relax before getting ready to head out for your last meal in Bologna.
Dinner at Osteria Angolo degli Orefici
Location: Osteria Angolo degli Orefici
To finish your trip, you’ll head to Osteria Angolo degli Orefici. This is a great little spot that’s tucked just off of the main high street but still amongst the hustle and bustle of the city which provides a great atmosphere.
Although it’s small, it looks typically Italian, with red-cushioned seats, big white umbrellas and lanterns which light up the dark nights. The food here seems to be a bit better than some of the surrounding restaurants, yet not significantly more expensive. Perhaps it’s the fancy presentation, as really, most of the restaurants around the city are selling exactly the same food: pasta, pizza, and seafood!
Where to stay for 48 hours in Bologna
If you’ve only got 48 hours in Bologna that you’ll want to maximise your time by staying in a relatively central part of the city.
This leaves you with 3 areas: Centro Storico – the very center of the city, Ghetto Ebraico – the Jewish quarter, and the University District.
- Centro Storico
Staying in Centro Storico will allow you to walk everywhere very easily, however, you’ll pay more for the privilege.
Mid-range: Albergo delle Drapperie
Luxury: Art Hotel Orologio
- Jewish Quarter
Bologna’s Jewish Quarter has a slightly different feel to it. It’s more of a medieval vibe and offers a bit of charm. Staying here won’t really change the price significantly as it’s still very central.
Budget: YAWHome B&B
Luxury: Hotel Corona d’Oro
- University District
The University District is where the oldest university in Europe is situated. It’s a quirky part of the city that’s artistically graffitied and has lots of cute places to eat. It’s approximately a 10-minute walk to the city centre and as such, you’ll find cheaper accommodation.
Budget: Dopa Hostel
Mid-range: B&B Il Viaggio Bologna
How to travel around the city
- By foot
Bologna is an easy city to explore on foot. It’s not huge and whilst you’ll certainly rack up the steps, it’s how most people travel around.
- By bike
Another popular way to get around the city is by bike. It’s super safe to roam the streets and there are few restrictions for cyclists, making it highly accessible to travel to and from various sites much faster if you need to. Whilst e-bikes are dotted around that you can pick up and drop off almost anywhere within the city, renting a bike is much more cost-effective.
Check bike rental prices: BikesBooking.com
- By bus
Alternatively, the bus network in Bologna is extensive and easy to navigate. You’ll be able to hop on the bus for under €2 and travel for up to 75 minutes.
There is also a ‘Red City Bus’ which is essentially a hop-on, hop-off bus experience. This will allow you to see a lot of the key sites in Bologna whilst listening to an audio about the history of the city. You can also combine this with a food-tasting tour if you wish.
Check prices: Red City Bus
Check prices: Red Bus City Tour and Local Food Tasting
- Is two days in Bologna enough?
Yes, two days in Bologna is the perfect amount of time to enjoy what’s on offer in the city. I was here for much longer since I was taking a bunch of day trips from Bologna, but all of the best parts can be squeezed into 2 days without a problem.
- Why is Bologna called the ‘red city’?
Bologna is called the ‘red city’ due to the vast amount of terracotta buildings which swamp the city.
- What food is Bologna famous for?
Bologna is famous for the creation of Bolognese, which is a pasta dish with a ragù sauce. You’ll also find plenty of cured meat, pasta, gelato and cheese around the city.
Discover more of Italy
If you like the sound of two days in Bologna and are looking for other itineraries, tips and tricks to help you explore Italy, then the below may be of interest to you. However, these are just a select few. If you’re looking for somewhere specific then using the search bar will help you navigate around the site easily.
- Northern Italy itinerary / coming soon
- Day trips from Bologna / coming soon
- Venice in 2 days / coming soon
Stay Wild Travels.
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