The 12 best sights of Bologna – description, photos, map

12 top attractions in Bologna

Bologna sights - Italy

Bologna, despite its size and special importance as the capital of the province and the Emilia-Romagna region is the most comfortable city to travel, most tourists consider it one of the most beautiful and interesting in Italy.

Lovers of good food are attracted here by its deserved reputation as gastronomic capital of the country. The most important industries of the city come from the production of pasta and sausages, so you are well advised to try them while you are here.

Along with seeing the tourist attractions of Bologna in Italy, spend time soaking up the unique character of the city: stroll under the arcades – the famous porticos, look inside the old fine stores, pay attention to the architectural features and interesting brickwork, pause and have lunch in one of the many cafes, dive into the abundance of students in the streets.

Most popular attractions are within walking distance of Piazza Maggiore, and the arcaded streets make a walk through Bologna enjoyable in any weather. Use our list to find the best attractions in Bologna.

Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno

Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno

Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno.| Photo: Lorenzoclick / Flickr.

It can seem as if all meetings with friends in Bologna take place simultaneously in two adjacent squares in the heart of the city. Conversation and laughter mingle with the sound of water splashing in the magnificent Neptune Fountain, after which Piazza del Nettuno was named.

Created by the sculptor Giambologna in the 16th century, it is one of the finest fountains of its time. Almost every major city landmark is within walking distance, as are the most important streets, including the lively shopping district of Via dell’Indipendenza and Via Galleria with its many ancient aristocratic mansions.

The graceful arcade of Via dell’Archiginnasio stretches along the majestic Basilica of San Petronio. Its still unfinished facade towers over one side of Piazza Maggiore.

At its northern end can be seen the ancient palazzo del Podesta with the Torre del Arengo, which was added later, in 1259. Under its vaulted dome, a word uttered in a low whisper in one corner will be clearly heard by those in the opposite corner of the room.

The address is Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy.

Basilica of San Petronio

San Petronio Basilica

San Petronio Basilica.| Photo: www.basilicadisanpetronio.org

When construction began in 1390 on the large church that now rises in all its power and splendor on one side of Piazza Maggiore, its size, according to the original design, should have exceeded the size of the largest Christian cathedral of Saint Peter’s in Rome, but the basilica was never completed. To this day, tourists can still see its unfinished facade.

In the small museum at the back of the church, you can see sketches and drawings of the original design of the church and its façade, which were worked on by various architects, including the great Andrea Palladio.

The graceful decoration of the cathedral is a true embodiment of Gothic Italian architecture, and each of its many side chapels resembles a small church.

Note the strange line crossing the floor of the nave: a brass meridian, a remarkably precise calendar. Sunlight falling on it through a hole in the roof of the church allows the month and day to be set correctly.

Address: Basilica of San Petronio, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Italy.

Basilica of Santo Stefano

Basilica of Santo Stefano

Basilica of Santo Stefano.| Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr.

There is no shortage of interesting and art-filled churches in Bologna, Santo Stefano is considered the oldest and most atmospheric of them all.

A complex of eight buildings, built by the Benedictines between the 10th and 13th century, where the relics of the Christian martyrs of Bologna, Saints Vitale and Agricola, were preserved, can rightly be called the cradle of the ancestral faith.

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In the Church of the Crucifixion (Chiesa del Crocifisso) to this day you can see the external pulpit of the XII century and the crypt, whose construction dates back to 1019. The octagonal basilica of San Sepolcro overlooks a colonnaded courtyard adjoining the two-story monastery.

Address: Torre degli Asinelli, Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, Bologna, Italy.

Falling Towers.

Falling Towers

Falling Towers.

Although Pisa is more famous for its falling tower, among the sights of Bologna you can see two of them at once, which seem to be more dangerous because of their height and narrow shape.

They are the most famous of the 20 towers that remain of the more than 100 structures that existed before. It is these towers, built everywhere, that have largely shaped the unique appearance of eleventh-century Bologna.

Although they were primarily used as watchtowers and places of defence in case of attack, as they were virtually impregnable fortresses, their height came to symbolize the social status of the noble families who erected them.

Thus, the 48-meter tower of Garizenda deviates from its vertical axis by more than 13 meters. You can climb the 498 steps inside the Asinelli Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city.

Address: The Two Towers, Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, Bologna, Italy.

Anatomical Theatre in the Archigymnasium

Anatomical Theatre in the Archigymnasium

Anatomical Theater in the Archigymnasium.| Photo: Rob Oo / Flickr.

Once just the main building of Bologna University, the Archigymnasium is now home to one of the most unusual places in Bologna, namely the auditorium where medical students studied anatomy by dissecting cadavers.

These days, however, it is not this fact that attracts tourists, but the exceptional interior of the room and the unusual wood carvings. The most interesting thing to see here is the wooden sculpture Ercole Lelli’s Spellati, which is a human figure with a clearly defined musculature and skeletal structure that can be seen in minute detail.

Also in this building is the Stabat Mater lecture hall, the walls of which are generously decorated with coats of arms. The University of Bologna, founded in the 11th century, is the oldest university of Western Europe.

Address: Archiginnasio Anatomical Theater, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Italy.

Portico di San Luca

San Luca Portico

Portico di San Luca | Photo: freshcreator / Flickr.

Visitors to Bologna can’t help but walk beneath the many porticoes, arcades that stretch along most of its streets. Not only do they save from the summer sun and shelter from the rain, but they also house stores that often display goods for display.

Arched streets began to appear in the 11th century, in the rapidly growing city center, overhanging upper floors were placed over the stores, thereby adding space for living and storage facilities, which allowed a more efficient use of the available space.

Gradually the buildings were equipped with supporting beams and posts, and accordingly, the arcades grew. In the XIII century, the arcades had to be so high that a rider on horseback could freely pass under them, and this contributed to the appearance of the graceful arcades we see today.

All the arched galleries in Bologna are about 40 kilometers long, the longest portico is about 3.5 kilometers and leads from the city to the top of the hill to the temple of Madonna di San Luca. It has 666 arches, and as it ascends it offers a magnificent view of the surrounding scenery. On Sundays, the walk is a priority and it is completely free.

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Address: Portico di San Luca, Bologna, Italy.

Basilica of St. Dominic.

Basilica of St. Dominic

Saint Dominic’s Basilica | Photo: Terry Clinton / Flickr.

After St. Dominic died in 1221, the cloister, of which he was the founder, began construction of the church, which was not completed until several centuries later.

The marble tomb containing the saint’s relics, carved in minute detail by the greatest masters of the time, including Michelangelo and Nicola Pisano, is in itself a good reason to visit the basilica.

However, this is not the only ecclesiastical work of art. The splendid wooden inlay in the choir, created by intarsia by master Damiano da Bergamo, was sung by Renaissance contemporaries as the eighth wonder of the world.

Address: Basilica di San Domenico, Piazza San Domenico, Bologna, Italy

National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum.

Even tourists who are not fans of museums of antiquity will really enjoy here an amazingly modern display of prehistoric and Etruscan finds found in the vicinity, as well as outstanding treasures of Celtic, Greek, Egyptian and Roman civilization.

There are only two museums in the country that can compare with its Egyptian collection. Here you will not see a dry pile of dusty relics, just a superbly organized display of artifacts.

Address: Museo Civico Archeologico, Via dell’Archiginnasio, Bologna, Italy.

Oratory of Battuti

Oratory of Battuti

Battuti Oratory.

To find one of Bologna’s unsung treasures, the Oratory, decorated with baroque paintings, frescoes and gilded carvings, you have to climb the stairs to a small room above the church. Taking a seat on one of the benches, you can examine the ceiling, avoiding discomfort in the neck.

Along the perimeter of the room is a group of 15 terracotta statues of the “Death of the Virgin”, carved by sculptor Alfonso Lombardi at the beginning of the 16th century. Due to the excellent acoustics of the room, various music programmes are often held there.

Address: Oratorio Dei Battuti, Via Clavature, Bologna, Italy

San Pietro Cathedral

San Pietro Cathedral

San Pietro Cathedral.

Since its founding in 910, San Pietro Cathedral has undergone many reconstructions. In 1575, for example, the choir of Pellegrino Tibaldi was added and its nave was rebuilt in the Baroque style of the seventeenth century.

A door on the left at the end of the side aisle leads to a collection of works of art that have been donated for religious celebrations over the centuries. Among them are items owned by several Popes and a magnificent precession cross donated recently, in 1996.

Address: Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, Bologna, Italy.

National Gallery

National Gallery

National Gallery. | Photo: Marco Assini.

The Pinacoteca di Bologna has a unique mission: to preserve and display the works of artists who lived and worked in this city and the Emilia-Romagna region from the 13th to the beginning of the 19th century.

Some of the works of art have their own history. For example, some works were rescued from churches that were closed or were used for other purposes, while others were returned to Bologna from the Louvre, whose collection was enriched with priceless trophies during the Napoleonic wars. Today you can see works by Raphael, Perugino, Tintoretto and other Renaissance artists.

Author: Pinacoteca Nazionale, Via delle Belle Arti, Bologna, Italy.

Food in Bologna.

Tagliatelle Bolognese

Tagliatelle Bolognese.

Perhaps apart from the sights of Bologna, photos and descriptions of which can be found in the guidebook, the city’s greatest attraction for tourists and source of its fame throughout Italy is its reputation as a culinary center.

It is famous for its tortellini, tagliatelle and other types of pasta, and most notably the traditional dish tagliatelle al ragu, otherwise known simply as tagliatelle bolognese.

Cured meat is a local specialty, and the region is also home to the world famous Italian cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano.

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There are many ways to taste and enjoy the culinary heritage of Bologna. You can start your journey with the markets and grocery stores. The narrow streets of Quadrilatero, the quarter between Piazza Maggiore, Via Rizzoli, Via Castiglione and Via Farini, has been a market since Roman times, the grounds filled with stores and street stalls selling all kinds of food, vegetables, cheese and fish to freshly made pastas and pastries.

Bologna travel guide: itinerary for all the sights

Bologna is the birthplace of Bolognese sauce and tortellini, and the largest city and center of Emilia-Romagna with a population of about 300,000 people. The city is also famous for its oldest Bologna University (founded in 1088).

Bologna can easily be distinguished from all other cities in Italy by its color – orange and yellow. This is the color of the city: the roofs and walls of buildings. Everywhere you go – the background will be this color.

The walls in the old town of Bologna are painted with unusual graffiti and mosaics.

Many summer vacationers in Rimini go here to see this amazing red-orange city and enjoy its authentic atmosphere. So did we: vacationing with my family in Rimini, we decided to explore the surrounding area. For this we rented a car and went to Bologna, and on the way back we stopped at some outlet stores to do some shopping.

How to get to Bologna 2022

  • By plane: Guglielmo Marconi International Airport, just 15 minutes by bus from the city center, connects Bologna with the main Italian and European airports.
  • One way to get to Bologna is by train. For example, from the railway station of Rimini you can easily get to the center of Bologna on the comfortable train Trenitalia (see a detailed report on how to buy a Trenitalia ticket).
  • Another way to get to the city is by car. You can rent a car in any city in Italy, for example in Rimini – as we did.

route from Rimini to Bologna on the map

The trip takes only about 2 hours. We left Rimini in the morning, and we were in Bologna in the afternoon – we walked just a few hours, constantly looking for shade. Since it was very hot, moving around the city in this heat is very difficult. So choose another season to visit Bologna – any season except July-August.

Parking in Bologna: how much does it cost and where is it better to leave the car?

Parking in the city center is not easy, only paid parking lots are available. We chose a paid parking in the center of Bologna – Parking Piazza VIII Agosto. To get to the parking, type the address in your navigator: Piazza dell Otto Agosto 40126 Bologna.

We paid for parking in Bologna 2.60 euros per hour. See the website of the parking where you can see the current rates here .

Sightseeing map of Bologna

Click on the map to open in a larger size and see the location of Bologna’s main attractions. Also marked on the map is the location of the parking lot.

San Pietro Cathedral

Bologna San Pietro

Cattedrale di San Pietro and the two towers Prendiparte and Altabella ( Author: Steffen Brinkmann)

Address: Via dell Indipendenza, 7, 40125 Bologna

The Cathedral of San Pietro (Italian Cattedrale di San Pietro) – founded in the 10th century, but then the building was almost completely destroyed in a fire, later rebuilt and then many times rebuilt (after the earthquake) and added individual elements (crypt, bell tower, portico).

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Today the Cathedral of San Pietro is the current and main cathedral of the Archdiocese of Bologna.

Opening hours: every day from 07:15 to 19:00, on public holidays from 8:00 to 19:00

Neptune Fountain

Bologna italy

Neptune Square and the fountain

The Neptune Fountain is located in the square of the same name, Piazza Nettuno.

Created by Pope Pius IV (Giovanni Angelo de’ Medici) after the Council of Trento, the Fountain of Neptune is a Renaissance work that is part of a broader program of architectural renewal in downtown Bologna, and in particular in Piazza Maggiore.

This fountain was imagined from the beginning as a symbol of charity and good papal rule, so its original name Aqua Pia (in honor of Pius IV) and the inscriptions on the sides of the tub fully reflect this intention.

Piazza Maggiore

piazza majore bologna

Palazzo Comunale o Pubblico

Bologna’s main square with the city’s main institutions: the Palazzo del Podestà, the Palazzo Comunale o Pubblico and the Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna’s largest church.

Basilica of San Petronio

basilica-san-petronio bologna

Address: Piazza Galvani, 5, 40124 Bologna

Basilica di San Petronio (Italian: La Basilica di San Petronio) is the fifth largest cathedral in Europe and is dedicated to the former bishop of Bologna.

The start date of construction was 1390. Architect Antonio di Vincenzo planned to make it gigantic in size (much larger than St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican), but after the intervention of the Pope, the dimensions were reduced (the current length is 132 meters instead of the originally planned 208 meters, the height is 60 meters).

Construction of the cathedral lasted a long time and ended in 1663. Interestingly, the facade of the basilica was never finished, although several unsuccessful attempts were made to clad it with marble.

The basilica is famous for: its paintings of famous artists Lippi, Costa, Aspertini, and the oldest Italian organ.

Opening hours: 7:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (lunch break 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.)

The Towers of the Asinelli and Garizenda

Asinelli and Garizenda Towers of Bologna

Casinelli and Garizenda Towers

Location: in Piazza di Porta Raveniana, at the crossroads of the ancient streets of San Donato (now via Zamboni), San Vitale, Maggiore and Castiglione.

Opening hours: daily from 9:30 to 18:30 (in winter November-February until 17:00)

Ticket price: 5 euros, only by advance reservation of time on the website: https://www.duetorribologna.com/more-info/

Many call these towers, built only a few meters apart, the main symbol of the city.

The Asinelli Tower, built between 1109 and 1119 by nobleman Gerardo Asinelli, is 97.2 meters high with a staircase of 498 steps. Although it is unknown who built it, for a long time it was really owned by the Asinelli family, then, with the decline of the family’s influence, it was taken over by the municipality of Bologna, to be used as a prison and fortress. The observation deck is accessible to tourists. Nowadays the tower has a displacement of 2.2 meters, 1.3 degrees.

Garizenda Tower was built around 1109, and originally had a height of 60 meters, then the despot Giovanni Visconti reduced it to 48 meters after a structural lowering, which began to show in the foundation soils, for the same reason increased the slope of the entire structure by 4 degrees. The Garizenda is now closed to tourists and has a height of 48 meters and an offset of 3 meters.

Prendiparte Tower

torre prendiparte

Torre Prendiparte or Torre Coronata

Having been the “impregnable fortress” of the Prediparte family for protection against enemies, the Torre Prendiparte or Torre Coronata is now open to tourists and those wishing to sleep in a luxury medieval hotel. You can visit all the 12 floors of the tower and at a height of 60 meters you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Bologna.

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Address: Piazzetta Prendiparte, 5 40126 Bologna (BO)

The Altabella Tower

torre azzoguidi

Torre Altabella (or Torre Azzoguidi)

Torre Altabella (or Torre Azzoguidi) is one of the about 20 noble towers still existing in the historic center of Bologna, built by the Azzoguidi family for protection and surveillance.

The tower is also called Altabella for its height and perfect verticality as well as elegance. The street where it is currently located, next to the Cathedral of San Pietro, is named after the tower. There is no way to get inside the tower, as it is closed to tourists. But you can visit the clock store on the first floor.

Address: Via Altabella, 15, 40100 Bologna BO, Italy

Basilica di Santo Stefano

bologna santo stefano

Basilica di Santo Stefano

Address: Via Santo Stefano, 24 – 40125 Bologna

Opening Hours: 9-30 to 19-00 (lunch break 12:30 to 14:30)

Santo Stefano (Italian: Basilica di Santo Stefano), also called the Seven Churches (Sette Chiese), was conceived as one of the reproductions of Jerusalem in Europe.

The Santo Stefano complex includes several sites erected at different times between the 5th and 13th centuries: the Temple of the Crucifixion, the Crypt, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Basilica of the Martyrs Vitalius and Agricola, the Court of Pilate, Calvary, and the Church of the Bandage.

Bologna Galleries

Bologna Galleries

Galleries in Bologna

The famous galleries can be found throughout the center of Bologna. They appeared back in the Middle Ages. It’s no secret that such buildings could be used only to increase the living space of the upper floors. Therefore, the inhabitants of Bologna began to build “balconies”, resting on wooden beams. Later, when the size of such structures had to be increased, they began to build stronger columns, and these structures became known as arcades.

Bologna

old galleries in Bologna

The inhabitants began to use these arcades for trading and placing craft shops. In addition, it is still easy for people to move around these galleries in any weather, be it rain or summer heat. Today in Bologna there are 38 kilometers of galleries in the center and another 15 kilometers outside.

I recommend visiting a few of them:

  • The longest 14th-19th century gallery in the city at the Basilica of St. Maria Servi
  • the tallest by the Archbishop’s Palace of Bologna
  • the shortest in Via Senzanome.
  • the longest in the world, 3,796 m (which goes beyond the center and leads to the Sanctuary of the Madonna)

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

Address: Via Zamboni, 33, 40126 Bologna

The current name of the university is Alma Mater Studiorum. It is the oldest university in the world (it was founded in 1088) and the founder of European education.

Learn more about the university at its official website: https://www.unibo.it/en.

Bologna’s canals

Bologna canal

the Reno river canal

Even during the extensive construction of Bologna in the 11th and 12th centuries (the so-called “tower period” in the history of the city) trade began to develop intensively, for which artificial canals created with water from the rivers Savena, Arosa and Reno were used. Almost the entire network of canals in Bologna has already been destroyed and does not exist today. But if you want to find traces of them, it is quite possible.

The address of one of the canals which you can easily find in Bologna is Via Piella, 5, 40126 Bologna. If you look for this place on the map, it is marked as Finestrella, namely “window” in Italian. All this because there really is a very attractive little window for tourists, which offers a wonderful view.

streets of bologna

the streets of bologna

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