A crucible of cuisine, urbane élan, historical allure and graffiti-etched chicness, Bologna is one of Italy’s most unique cities. Miles of exquisite porticoes are distinctive of Bologna’s architectural beauty: under the arches, tourists, citizens and students saunter through the streets in search of food, wine, and everything city life has to offer.

All that schlepping got you hungry? Then take a pasta crawl in the home of bolognese.

Lord knows why you'd want to leave, but why not set out on one of these five perfect day trips from Bologna?

See red from the Asinelli Tower

See red from the Asinelli Tower
Vertiginous views await from this historic tower / Credit: Adobe Stock

Soaring over the centre of Bologna for over nine centuries, the Asinelli and the Garisenda towers are true icons of the city. Apocryphally named for the family that erected it in the early 1100s, ascending the taller 97-metre Asinelli Tower is almost a prerequisite. From its high vantage point, it’s easy to see why the city is nicknamed La Rossa, as the panorama of terracotta rooftops stretches out beneath you. It’s compulsory to reserve a ticket but you won’t regret scaling the (steep) 498 wooden steps to the top.

Fill your face in the Quadrilatero

Fill your face in the Quadrilatero
Meat your next meal at a classic market / Credit: Alamy

Roman, Medieval, and modern patrons have all paced the cobbled streets of the Quadrilatero – the old market quarter in the centre of the city – in search of good eating. The thronging passages of cloistered shops are named for the ancient merchant guilds once located here: via Orefici for the goldsmiths. Via Drapperie for the upholsterers. Via Caprarie for the butchers (and so on). From fishmongers and bakers to kaleidoscopic produce stands and stacks of fresh tortellini and formaggi, it remains a gourmand’s dream. Do check out Salumeria Simoni for a tagliere sharing board of authentic Bolognese mortadella

Take a drink in a bar with no name

Founded in 2012 by Sara Longhi and Alfonso Marrazzo, Bar Senze Nome – the ‘bar with no name’ – is the first drinking den in Italy owned and managed by hearing-impaired staff. Here, the tables are turned – the onus is on the hearing to make themselves understood. To order your drinks, either write your selections on the pre-printed tickets provided, be lipread, or try your hand at Italian Sign Language (LIS) in order to whet your whistle.

Hunt for the Seven Secrets of Bologna

Hunt for the Seven Secrets of Bologna
Snoop around the hallowed arches of the Palazzo Podestá / Credit: 123rf

Unbeknown to many visitors, Bologna holds a septenary of secret legends hidden throughout the city. Secret canals; a hidden message on a portico vault about the virtues of bread, cannabis, and wine; a trompe l’œil of the Neptune fountain’s “virility”; the whispering walls under the arches of Palazzo Podestá; the broken vase of atop the Asinelli tower; three lodged arrows in Corte degli Isolani; and a Latin phrase engraved in an ancient table at the University. Can you find them all?

Get square eyes at the Piazza Maggiore

Get square eyes at the Piazza Maggiore
The Basilica di San Petronio looms over Maggiore / Credit: 123rf

Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore, is the beating heart of the city, both physically and figuratively. Dating back to 1200, it’s flanked by a series of centuries-old palatial façades vital to public life in the Middles Ages; and according to urban myth, it’s bad luck for students of the university to cross the raised Crescentone area of the square before graduating. Dominating the piazza is the Basilica di San Petronio, notable for its unfinished main façade (which has been incomplete for centuries). The sixth largest church in Europe, the basilica is dedicated to Bologna’s patron saint.

Corner the market at Piazzola

Corner the market at Piazzola
Piazzola is the local's choice of Bologna market / Credit: Adobe Stock

Every Friday and Saturday, the historic Piazzola market takes over the Parco Montagnola and Piazza VIII Agosto. Popular with locals, vendors at this sprawling market sell everything from thrifty vintage clothes to antique curios, flowers, art, and cooking equipment. The market has been going since 1878, having superseded an earlier livestock fayre that stretched back even further to the 13th century. Though the scent of cattle might be long gone, nothing is lost for shoppers with a nose for a bargain.

Find the green heart of Bologna at Giardini Margherita

Find the green heart of Bologna at Giardini Margherita
English landscape vibes abound in the city's most popular park / Credit: Adobe Stock

Covering 26 hectares in the south of the city, the Giardini Margherita is Bologna’s most popular park and one of few green lungs in an otherwise sienna-coloured city. Opened in 1879, it was modelled on the Romantic ideals of traditional English landscape gardens: ample lawns, fountains, and tree-lined avenues perfect for promenading after a morning walking under Bologna’s bustling porticoes. In the summer, check out Kilowatt at Le Serre – a community innovation hub based in the park’s regenerated greenhouses.

Hike up to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca

Hike up to the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
Heavenly light at a hilltop holy place / Credit: 123rf

Perched on a hill 300 metres above the cityscape lies this beautiful basilica church, several kilometres walk from Porta Saragozza. An ascent through a porticoed trail of 666 arches (the longest arcaded path in the world and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in itself) winds upwards to the scenic summit, which affords a 180-degree view of Bologna and its bucolic surroundings. The church also houses an icon of the Virgin Mary, purportedly painted by Luke the Evangelist.

Apply some surgical focus at the Anatomical Theatre

Apply some surgical focus at the Anatomical Theatre
The wood-panelled interior of the Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio's surgical room / Credit: Alamy

One of the city’s most incredible sights is the 17th-century Anatomical Theatre, located in the Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio in the centre of Bologna. A wood-panelled marvel, Baroque-period students would have attended anatomy lectures here as part of their medical schooling. The Teatro Anatomico was almost razed by bombing during the Second World War, but a painstaking recovery of its original pieces from the rubble of the air raid means that, today, it has been mostly restored to its former glory.

Get learned at the University of Bologna and Palazzo Poggi

Get learned at the University of Bologna and Palazzo Poggi
Brainiac catnip at one of Italy's key academic institutions / Credit: Adobe Stock

Founded in 1088, Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world: hence its moniker of La Dotta, or ‘the Learned’. Also known as ‘Alma Mater Studiorum’, it remains one of the most prestigious in Italy. Situated within the nucleus of the university district is the 14th-century Palazzo Poggi. Inside, you’ll find frescoed chambers and three museums dedicated to recreations of the laboratories and collections of the Institute of Sciences and Arts which were once part of the same building.

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