Wondering what to do in Bologna in one day? It’s right here in my guide to spending one day in Bologna, Italy.
Red terracotta roofs, winding porticos and endless dishes of flavourful tortelloni and tagliatelle al ragú. Bologna is a city of intrigue.
If you love food and medieval history, then you’ll definitely want to make room in your Italy itinerary to visit Bologna. Here’s my itinerary for one day.
Read next: 3 days in Bologna and surroundings
My trip to Bologna was sponsored by Tourist Initiatives and Assoturismo Confesercenti Bologna.
Table of Contents
What is Bologna known for?
Bologna is the capital of Emilia Romagna, located in Northern Italy between Venice and Florence. Bologna is known for its two leaning towers, its rich food legacy and the medieval buildings adorned with miles of remarkable porticoes.
Also known as Italy’s food centre, this is your go-to for tortelloni, mortadella sausage, balsamico vinegar and tagliatelle al ragú – the original “spaghetti Bolognese”.
Bologna in one day
You might be wondering if 1 day in Bologna is enough, and it’s a valid question. Ideally, you would have a week here with time enough to take it all in – the food, sights, and the atmosphere (the food, especially). But one day is doable, too.
My post shares the perfect Bologna itinerary if you only have one day in the city. Since most of the main sights are located in the city centre and it’s pretty compact, you can easily walk around the city and experience Bologna in one day.
Get the Bologna Welcome Card
While there are many free things to do in Bologna, some of the sights you’ll be visiting require an admission. So, it’s worth considering buying the Bologna Welcome Card for your one day in Bologna. That way, you’ll save some money on tickets. You have two options:
- EASY card: 25 Euros (perfect for one day in Bologna)
- PLUS card: 40 Euros (perfect for 2-3+ days in Bologna)
The heart of Bologna is the 13th century Piazza Maggiore, also known as the town square.
Flanked by several impressive Renaissance palazzi (beautiful Italian houses), the Neptune Fountain, and Europe’s 6th largest basilica, this is the best place in town to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while watching the city go by.
The San Petronio Cathedral
At the Piazza Maggiore you’ll find the San Petronio Cathedral from 1390, which is the 6th largest basilica in Europe. It’s also where Napoleon’s sister, Maria Anna Elisa Bonaparte, is buried. Another interesting fact about the church is that inside you’ll find a 15th-century Gothic fresco showing Mohammed being tormented by devils in hell. Obviously, this doesn’t sit well with some parts of the Muslim world, so the church entrance is guarded by the military.
Explore the fascinating Anatomical Theatre
The 17th-century Teatro Anatomico is one of the most unique attractions in Bologna, because this is where public body dissections were held back in the day under the sinister watch of an Inquisition priest. All made of cedar wood, the room dates back to 1637 and features a marble table in the middle for the body and seats from where the students could watch the anatomy lessons.
The Anatomical Theatre is part of the University of Bologna, which also holds a library from the 19th century with more than 800,000 ancient works. I highly recommend visiting the University to see the buildings and beautiful frescos.
Climb the Asinelli Tower
Ever wanted to visit the leaning tower of Pisa? Well, there’s one in Bologna, too.
Towering high above the city, the Garisenda tower and its twin, the Asinelli tower, are the hallmark of Bologna. You can only enter the Asinelli tower, which is also the highest with its 97.2 meters. It was built in the 12th century by the Asinelli familly, but after a century it became the property of Bologna Municipality and used as a prison and fortress.
If you’re in good shape and feeling brave, you can climb the 498 stairs to the top where a panoramic view of the city awaits.
Discover other medieval towers
While Asinelli and Garisenda towers are the two main towers, Bologna has over 20 towers still standing in the historic centre.
You’ll find the Galluzzi tower straight off Via D’Azeglio, a lively street with cafés and boutiques. The 33 metres high Galluzzi tower was built in 1257 by the Galluzzi family, who was at war with the Ghibelline family. Much like Romeo & Juliet, two young lovers from each family married in secret, but the hostilities between the families led to their tragic deaths.
Stroll the Quadrilatero
On a more cheerful note, it’s time to be thinking about lunch, so I recommend walking towards the Quadrilatero.
The Quadrilatero is the soul of Bologna and has been since the Middle Ages. This is where people come to buy food, handicrafts and fresh produce. It’s the perfect place to sample some of the delicious food in Bologna such as mortadella and tortellini.
Where to get cheese, bread and pasta:
- Antica salumeria Tamburini and Salumeria Simoni: local cold cuts and cheeses
- Paolo Atti e Figli: bread, fresh homemade pasta and typical sweets
Admire the porticoes
One of the first things you’ll notice about Bologna is the porticos, which have earned the city its UNESCO status. With a total of 40 km of porticos, Bologna has the most arcades in the world. They are everywhere. From medieval style in Strada Maggiore to Renaissance style in Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore in via Zamboni.
The San Luca portico is the longest in the world with its 3,796 meters and 666 arches that connect downtown Bologna with the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
Piazza Santo Stefano
One of the most beautiful piazzas in Bologna is Piazza Santo Stefano.
Here, you’ll find the Basilica of Santo Stefano, which was built in the 5th century on the ruins of an old pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Isis. The monumental complex is also called “the seven churches” as it was once divided into 7 churches, each symbolising a phase of Christ’s passion. Today, only four churches remain.
Inside you’ll find the Church of the Crucifix, the Church of the Calvario, the Church of Saint Vitale and Saint Agricola and the Church of the Trinity. You can also admire the Courtyard of Pilate.
The most beautiful place in town is the Sanctuary of San Luca. It’s located on top of the Colle della Guardia, from which there’s a beautiful view of the city and surrounding area.
The basilica houses an icon of the Blessed Virgin, made by the evangelist Luke and brought to Bologna from the basilica of Santa Sofia in Constantinople. Aside from the basilica, I recommend heading to the panoramic terrace to admire the view of the city and hills. On a clear day you can see the Apennines that straddles the border between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany.
How to get there:
- Walk. It takes about an hour to walk up to San Luca. The road is quite steep.
- The San Luca Express, which leaves from Piazza Maggiore. A round trip ticket costs 12 Euros for adults, 6 Euros for children (6-10 years), and 3 Euros for children (0-5 years).
Eat, eat, eat
You say bolognese, Italians say al ragù. Regardless of what we call it, this meat sauce served with delicious, fresh tagliatelle is a must-have dish in Bologna.
While you’re there, also be sure to try the mortadella sausage. Other specialities to try in Bologna include tortellini or tortelloni (vegetarian), parma ham, lasagna, and much more.
Read next: 10 delicious foods you must eat in Bologna
Got extra time? Take a day trip to Dozza
Do you have an extra day to spend?
Then I suggest heading out of the city and visiting one of the nearby small villages. Dozza is one of the best day trips from Bologna as it’s only 35 km from the city. The little medieval village gets all its charm from the more than 100 house murials, painted by contemporary prestigious artists. Dozza also has a fortress and a few cosy restaurants.