With its photogenic rust-hued architecture and illustrious history as one of Europe’s oldest centers of learning, Bologna is one of Italy’s most compelling destinations to explore. Foodies will find themselves spoiled for choice in this town nicknamed la grassa(the fat one), while culture-hounds will love exploring its many museums. Even a single day in this warm, welcoming city is enough to succumb to its considerable charms.
Morning: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Join the throngs of fashionable locals and sip your morning jolt of caffeine at Caffè Zanarini, which serves delectable pastries right on the Piazza Galvani. If you’re in a hurry, sidle up to the bar and down your potent espresso in one gulp. Should you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, linger over a cappuccino and enjoy the prime people-watching.
Make your way to the city’s beating heart, the bustling Piazza Maggiore, for a quick photo of the Fountain of Neptune. There’s almost always something going on here, from free film screenings in the summer evenings to various festivals throughout the year. After checking out the street musicians, duck inside the Biblioteca Salaborsa, a grand library situated in the former financial exchange. Be sure to look down through the glass floor to see ancient ruins excavated in an archeological dig. Round off your morning tour by walking over to the majestic Cattedrale di San Pietro, a soaring basilica dedicated to Saint Peter.
Afternoon: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
A rowdy joint beloved by local university students for its affordable dishes and infectious vibe, Osteria dell’Orsa is an institution not to be missed. Grab a seat at one of the communal tables, order any of the panini, and strike up a conversation with your neighbors.
Bologna’s iconic two towers loom large over the historic center. Although local lore considers it bad luck for students to climb to the top of the Torre Asinelli before graduation, travelers should feel no such reservations. March up the 498 steps for a breathtaking view of the city’s red rooftops.
Travel back in time at the high-tech Museo della Storia di Bologna, a thoughtfully designed museum dedicated to the history of the city housed in a refurbished palazzo. Interactive exhibits make this stop a hit with visitors of all ages.
Indulge your sweet tooth at one of the superb local gelaterias. If you feel like window shopping your way around some of the city’s prettiest boutiques, stop by Cremeria Funivia for a scoop made with toasted pine nuts or maple syrup and pecans. Alternatively, head to the atmospheric Piazza Santo Stefano for a look at the historic basilica and a taste of any of the flavors at Cremeria Santo Stefano.
Evening: 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Universally revered among local gourmands since it opened in the 1980s, Caminetto d’Oro serves soulful renditions of classic bolognese dishes like tagliatelle al ragù, as well as subtly updated numbers like a seared duck breast with red wine reduction, caramelized grapes and buckwheat. Finally, wander down Via Castiglione for a nightcap at Emporio 1920, a speakeasy where mixologists shake and stir up sophisticated tipples like a negroni with a hint of dark chocolate and a puff of vanilla-scented mist.
DON’T count calories. It would be a crime to miss out on all the sensational handmade pasta, charcuterie and cheeses while here. This is the place to throw dietary caution to the wind and savor every bite.
DO be sure to try local specials such as Bologna’s legendary lasagne and tortellini.
DON’T order spaghetti bolognese or baloney.
DO order traditional tagliatelle al ragù and try true mortadella, which will make you forget the flabby, processed lunch meat you grew up with.
DON’T drive. Parking is a nightmare in Bologna’s historic center and the quaint, cobblestoned streets make cars something of a nuisance.
DO rent a bicycle. You can easily walk around, but most students prefer the speed and convenience of a pair of wheels.
DON’T order a cappuccino in the afternoon. While no barista will stop you, it’s considered something of a faux-pas and will instantly make you stand out as a tourist.
DO grab an espresso on the go. Locals fuel up throughout the day with quick hits of caffeine. Simply tell the bartender or barista “Prendo un caffè.”