What to see in Bologna on your own in 1 day
A city in shades of terracotta, Bologna is one of the most interesting in the Apennine Peninsula. The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region has something to fascinate the curious tourist. If you are passing through the city, BlogoItaliano has prepared for you a short itinerary with the main places worth seeing in Bologna on your own in 1 day. All you need to do is take the time and the desire to get around.
Useful tip: Planning a trip to Bologna, be sure to install the audio guide for iPhone [link].
The route of the audio tour goes through 54 main attractions of Bologna. All of them are marked on a convenient built-in map, the GPS will allow you to find all the points easily, and the application itself can work offline, even without internet.
In the trial version of the audio guide, you can listen to the first 5 points for free, and the full version will cost only about 6 euros. This is 10-30 times cheaper than similar live tours. You can download the trial version of the audio guide on your iPhone on this page.
From Bologna Central to Piazza Maggiore
The best place to start exploring Bologna is at Bologna Centrale, which is considered one of the main railway junctions in all of Italy. With your back to the main entrance of the station, confidently turn left and walk along Viale Pietro Pietramellara to the September 20th square (Piazza XX Settembre).
The square flows smoothly into the city’s main street, Via dell’Indipenza, which stretches for almost a kilometer to the central Piazza Maggiore.
Piazza Maggiore is the main square of the city
Dozens of boutiques and stores can be found in Via dell’Indipenza, so shoppers will be in for a treat. Even Rome’s Via del Corso is somewhat inferior.
First stop on the way is St. Peter’s Cathedral. Be sure to go inside to admire the splendid decorations of one of Bologna’s most important churches.
The vaults of the central nave are decorated with frescoes by Prospero Fontana, Marcantonio Franceschini, Ludovico Carracci and Donato Creti. And, of course, it is impossible to pass by Alfonso Lombardi’s sculptural composition Mourning the Fallen Christ. It’s amazing how gracefully and subtly you can embody in stone the whole gamut of human emotions.
The temple is dedicated to the patron saint of Bologna, St. Petronius.
After visiting the halls of the cathedral climb to its bell tower: the panorama of the city from a height of 70 m is a very fascinating sight. The entrance to the observation deck costs 2 euros. But it works only on Saturdays. In the same cathedral you can go absolutely free every day except religious holidays and divine services.
Near the Cathedral of San Pietro there is the Neptune Square with the sculpture of the same name crowning the intricate fountain of the 16th century.
This striking example of Mannerism belongs to the hand of the sculptor Giovanni da Bologna or, as he was called, Giambolognese. And on the east side of the square can be seen Palazzo Enzo, the palace where King Enzo of Sardinia was imprisoned for 23 years.
Neptune’s fountain of the 16th century (the work of the Florentine sculptor Giambologna)
Walk a little further and you’ll find yourself in Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main square. It is bounded on all sides by ancient palaces, of which the Palazzo del Podestà (1201) and the Palazzo d’Accursio (1290) with its adjoining palazzo d’Accursio, which houses the municipality and the Morandi Museum stand out.
The main attraction is the Basilica di San Petronio, a grandiose building that was built over two and a half centuries but was never finished. The temple is dedicated to the patron saint of Bologna, St. Petronius, who once served here as bishop.
Palazzo d’ Accursio houses the municipality and the Morandi Museum
The city government’s idea was that the size of the temple would exceed even St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, but after the intervention of the Pope, their ambitions had to be tempered.
This basilica houses the oldest organ in Italy, created in 1475 by the Tuscan master Lorenzo di Giacomo.
From Piazza Maggiore to the Asinelli and Garizenda Towers
The next site worth seeing in Bologna, even if you’re here on your own and only for 1 day, is the Archaeological Museum. It is located right next to the Basilica of San Petronio, so you won’t have to look for it for long.
Bologna once had ancient settlements of Etruscans, and all findings discovered during excavations within the city and its surroundings are exhibited here.
In addition to the Etruscan artifacts themselves, other collections deserve attention in the museum: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gallic – a total of 8 sections.
The plan of Santo Stefano repeats the structure of the temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
Just 200 meters from the Museum there is another important basilica of the city. It is the church of San Domenico, belonging to the Dominican order, where the relics of its founder, St. Dominic, are housed.
The next point worth paying attention to in Bologna is the temple complex of Santo Stefano . It consists of several interconnected churches and religious buildings.
The plan of Santo Stefano echoes the structure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and it is one of the closest embodiments of it on the territory of Europe.
Most of the buildings of the complex date back to the Middle Ages, although many reconstructions were carried out in New time. The walls of the complex hold many ancient and unique monuments of culture: icons, sculptures, frescoes and Christian shrines. You can see all of this for free.
What else is worth seeing in Bologna in 1 day are the medieval skyscrapers – the “falling” Asinelli and Garizenda towers. From Santo Stefano it is easy to reach them on foot along Via Santo Stefano.
From the observation deck on the Tower of the Asinelli you can see the whole city
As now, in those days, the proof of wealth and high status was real estate, and as close to the center of the city as possible. However, in Bologna it was measured not so much in square meters, as in height.
The noble families, competing with each other, built such towers all over the city. Most of them have not withstood the test of centuries and collapsed, but the Asinelli and Garizenda are still standing, and the latter had to be shortened 3 times before it actually fell down.
By the way, Asinelli significantly outstripped her famous Pisan sister – 97 meters against 56. If you are not afraid to overcome almost 500 steps, climb the observation deck (link to tickets + tasting) – you simply can’t think of a better place to contemplate the panorama of the city.
From the Falling Towers to the Pinacoteca Nazionale
After catching our breath after a harsh climb, we continue along via Zamboni to the alma mater of all Italy – the University of Bologna, the oldest in Europe. On the way, we can take a look at another remarkable basilica, San Giacomo Maggiore, and admire the frescoes of the XV century, on the right side of the street.
Bologna University on the list of the most prestigious universities in the world
Our independent route is nearly completed, and feeling nostalgic about the college years, we’ll go to the place where they’ve been teaching for almost 1000 years! Petrarch, Boccaccio, Dante, Copernicus – the greatest representatives of their time sat on the benches of the University of Bologna. And today it continues to occupy a leading position in the list of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The territory of the university is open to all comers, so feel free to go inside and take in the atmosphere of this place, for some carefree and for others awe-inspiring and majestic.
And now, inspired and enlightened, let’s move on to the final point of the walk in ancient Bologna. Back in via Zamboni, we walk a little further to Piazza Vittorio Puntoni, where the National Pinacoteca is located.
The university area is open to all comers.
This art gallery is considered one of the best in Italy: its collection contains the most important representatives of the Bolognese school of painting, and of the whole world painting in general: Giotto, Raphael, van Gogh, Rubens, Titian, Leonardo and others.
The best way to end a busy day of walking is with a colorful dinner in the style “a la Bolognese”. Not every Italian region has given the world so many culinary delights as the terracotta capital of the Emilia-Romagna region has managed.
BlogoItaliano’s Bologna itinerary
Of course, Bologna has far more interesting places and sights than you can fit into the format of an online article. Especially since the city has the amazing property of exceeding travelers’ expectations.
There is so little quality information on the capital of Emilia-Romagna in the runet that most travelers miss the most interesting places, settling for what they stumble upon by chance.
The art gallery is considered one of the best in Italy
So after visiting the city, BlogoItaliano couldn’t resist the temptation to put together the author’s detailed itinerary for a 1-day self-guided tour of Bologna, so you can get the most out of your trip without spending money on expensive tours.
Here’s what you’ll find inside:
- A ready-made step-by-step 1-day itinerary covering 16 of Bologna’s top attractions
- An interactive route map on Google Maps and tags for maps.me to add the route to your smartphone and use without the Internet
- A PDF version of the route that you can simply print out and take with you
- Viewpoints along the way so you’ll have cool photos
- A detailed timeline of the main attractions along the route
- Little-known “tricks” that most tourists ignorantly pass by
- What to try in Bologna and where to do it
- Where to go to have an atmospheric evening in Bologna
The Italian guides we showed the route to, estimated it at 40-50 euros. And such a price would be justified, taking into account how much the tour would cost on the spot.
The city in shades of terracotta is rich in attractions
But our goal is not to make money on the route, but to make it as accessible as possible, so that as many people as possible could discover the richest attractions of Bologna.
That’s why we decided to make the price of the Route even lower than the average cost of two cocktails in Italy. So get your version right now while it’s so affordable.
Make an order at this link and have a fascinating trip to Bologna.
Photos by: blogoitaliano.com, Dimitris Kamaras, Marco Assini, pixabay.com, Bryn Pinzgauer, g.sighele, CucombreLibre.
An itinerary for a 1-day walk in Bologna
I’ve tried to put together a walking itinerary for Bologna so that you have the opportunity to see as much of the city’s sights in 1 day as we did.
Our itinerary begins at Bologna’s main train station, which is one of the largest train stations in Italy with 33 tracks. The station is known for tragic events – one of the largest terrorist attacks in the country in 1980, when 85 people were killed and 200 were wounded. In memory of this murder, the hole from the explosion in the wall has been preserved.
Then we move on to the next important site, the Porta Galliera gate, beyond which the old town begins. There are still many medieval gates around the perimeter of the old town, which can be bypassed if you have time to spare.
We climb the beautiful marble baroque staircase to the Parco della Montagnola. It is the oldest park in the city and is very well maintained, with many benches, lanterns, a pond and sculptural groups worked on by eminent masters.
Along one of the main streets, Via dell’Indipendenza, with many stores and cafes, we continue to explore the city. On our way we should pay attention to an important sculpture – Monumento a Giuseppe Garibaldi (Equestrian Monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi).
By the way, on the way after the Garibaldi Monument don’t forget to look into the unassuming Via Malcontenti to see the Venice of Bologna. For the best shots you need to walk to the bridge in Via Piella.
In the alleys we try to find Palazzo Grassi, a 13th century palace built in Gothic style.
Then we return to Via Indipendenza and along the porticoes we reach one of the important cathedrals of the city, the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro. Behind the cathedral is the elegant Torre Azzoguidi, 61 meters high.
The porticoes of Bologna (long arched galleries) are also landmarks of the city, as they are as much as 40 km long. The porticoes help to hide from the rain in bad weather and from the scorching sun in the hot months. The records of the Bologna porticos – the longest is 3.5 km, and the narrowest is 95 cm. We described in more detail about the porticos in another article of the guidebook “Non-tourist places of Bologna”.
And now we come to the very heart of Bologna, where at any time of the day life is in full swing – Piazza Maggiore and Palazzo Re Enzo. In the piazza, look out for the Neptune Fountain and the most important sites in the area: Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo Podesta, Basilica San Petronio and Palazzo Comunale.
San Petronio Basilica is the dominant feature of Piazza Maggiore and one of the largest churches in Europe and the world, erected in honor of the city’s patron saint, St. Petronius. The Basilica, 132 meters long, 66 meters wide and 47 meters high, is considered Bologna’s most majestic church.
Within a radius of about 25 meters from the square there are a couple of other important sites that are worth a visit: the Archaeological Museum (Museo Civico Archeologico) and the Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita, with the highest dome in Bologna. Behind the Basilica of San Petronio is the Terrazza di San Petronio and the Statue of Luigi Galvani, the famous physicist.
Surely you are already hungry? Then you should push through for lunch at one of the city’s restaurants, because for lunch many restaurants are only open from 12 to 2 pm, and then the restaurants close and open only for dinner. So my advice to you, not to waste time, go to an informal institution Mercato di Mezzo. This institution is made in the form of a market, under the roof of which various institutions are gathered. There are always a lot of people and you can choose the food of any taste and color. The main advantages of this place are the fast food service and a long opening time without a break for lunch from 9 a.m. to 24:00.
After a hearty lunch we walk to the arch-tomb of Rolandino de’ Passaggeri, Bologna’s chief medieval notary and lawyer, next to which on the square is the Basilica of San Domenico, the most important temple of the monks of the Dominican order.
Are your feet still tired from the many kilometers of the race? Continue on to Via Santo Stefano and admire the Palazzo Salina and the architecturally stunning Casa Isolani in Via Maggiore.
A short distance to the famous Le due torri (the two towers), the Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato e Agricoltura di Bologna, an elegant brick building in the Gothic style. One of them is falling as in Pisa, only with an even greater angle of inclination. And another tower is considered one of the highest in Europe, it is called Asinelli. The height of the tower is 97.2 meters, to get to the observation deck you have to overcome 498 steep wooden steps.
Do you think that you have seen all the most interesting things in Bologna? Not at all, our busy walk doesn’t end and we go for a walk in the student quarter on Via Zamboni, where you will find the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore, the museum of the University, the Palazzo Poggi and the Pinacoteca (Art Gallery).
Here is where the walking route comes to an end, and you should think about how to spend the evening. Some will go to rest in a hotel, some to the famous spa complex Terme San Petronio – Antalgik, and some will go to taste the Italian cuisine. Below I am laying out a map of the itinerary, which you will definitely need.
Things not included in the itinerary
I have not included the following important sights in the itinerary, because it is impossible to walk around Bologna in 1 day, and if you have strength or extra day, it is worth a visit.
- Basilica di San Francesco
- Palazzo Albergati
- The perimeter gates of the old city: Porta Saragozza, Porta San Mamolo, Porta Castiglione, Porta Santo Stefano, Porta Maggiore, Porta San Vitale, Porta San Donato
- Margherita Gardens (Al Parco Giardini Margherita) is a beautiful park that is especially beautiful in spring.
For more information about the city our other articles about Bologna will be helpful to you: “Sights of Bologna”, “Bologna Museums” and “Bologna Excursions”.
You can explore the city with the author’s guide “Bologna in 1 day”, which provides an even more detailed walking route and describes all the sights.
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