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Leaning Towers & Lasagna to Die For!

Photo by Pixabay

This Italian town is thrown down with the oldest university in the Western world, has tastier lasagna than your Nonna's, and has leaning towers that'll make Pisa look like a wobbly toddler.

Bologna, the vibrant capital of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, is where medieval meets modern and where your taste buds will be forever grateful. So ditch the crowds and explore Bologna, a city that will have you saying "magnifico" in no time!

Nestled between the Reno and Savena rivers, Bologna boasts a rich history dating back to the Etruscans. Nicknamed "La Dotta", or The Learned in English, it houses the oldest university in the Western world, founded in 1088.

But Bologna is more than just classrooms and dusty tomes. Its lively spirit spills out onto bustling squares, charming porticoed streets, and a legendary culinary scene that'll make you want to loosen your belt a notch (or two).

Here is your Bologna guide with eight must-sees and dos to fuel your wanderlust:

Marvel at the Two Towers

Photo by iStock

Bologna's skyline is dominated by the unmistakable leaning duo, the Asinelli Tower and the Garisenda Tower. Asinelli, nicknamed "La Piccola Torre Pendente", The Little Leaning Tower, is the taller of the two at a staggering 97 meters (318 feet). While you can't climb Garisenda due to safety concerns, a 498-step climb up Asinelli rewards you with breathtaking 360-degree views of Bologna's terracotta rooftops and the surrounding Apennine Mountains.

Get lost in Piazza Maggiore

Photo by Maria Bobrova/Unsplash

Bologna's heart thumps in Piazza Maggiore, a grand square pulsating with life. Marvel at the imposing Basilica di San Petronio, the city's main church with its unfinished façade. Legend has it that construction stalled after a jealous architect sabotaged the project to prevent it from surpassing St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Snap a photo with the impressive Neptune Fountain (Fontana del Nettuno) in the square's centre, a Renaissance masterpiece depicting the sea god surrounded by frolicking nymphs and sea creatures.

Wander the Porticos

Photo by Unsplash

Bologna boasts the most extended network of porticoes, covered walkways, in the world, stretching for over 37 kilometres. These elegant arcades, some dating back to the 11th century, were built to provide shade from the summer sun and shelter from winter rain. Today, they offer a delightful way to explore the city on foot, window-shopping or stopping for a coffee at a cosy cafe tucked beneath the arches.

Unleash your inner gourmand at the Quadrilatero

Photo by Danilo Rosini/Bologna Welcome
Photo by Meridiana Immagini/Bologna Welcome

Prepare to have your senses overwhelmed at the Quadrilatero, a labyrinthine network of narrow streets in the heart of Bologna's historic centre. This bustling market district is a foodie paradise, overflowing with fresh produce piled high in colourful stalls. Sample local cheeses, cured meats like prosciutto di Parma, and the region's crown jewel, Parmigiano Reggiano. Don't miss the chance to try Bologna's signature street food, mortadella, a melt-in-your-mouth mortadella sausage served in a fluffy white bread roll.

Bargain hunt at Mercato delle Erbe

Photo by Wildlab Multimedia/Bologna Welcome
Photo by Pietro Bondi/Bologna Welcome

A short stroll from the Quadrilatero lies the Mercato delle Erbe, a vibrant market specializing in fresh produce and local crafts. Immerse yourself in the cacophony of vendors hawking their wares, from seasonal fruits and vegetables to fragrant herbs and colourful flowers. Pick up unique souvenirs like hand-painted ceramics, leather goods, and traditional Bolognese linens.

Pinacoteca Nazionale

Photo by Bologna Welcome

This grand national gallery, housed in the former Palazzo dei Toschi, is a treasure trove of Italian paintings from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Prepare to be awestruck by masterpieces from renowned artists like Raphael, whose exquisite "Madonna of San Luca" is a highlight. Titian's vibrant "Venus, Adonis, and Cupid" will leave you breathless, while Guercino's captivating works, including the evocative "Et in Arcadia Ego," will spark contemplation. Beyond these heavyweights, the Pinacoteca Nazionale showcases a remarkable collection by Bolognese masters like the Carracci family, offering a fascinating exploration of the local artistic school.

MAMbo (Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna)

Photo by M.A. Ghilardi/Bologna Welcome

Photo by M.A. Ghilardi/Bologna Welcome

If contemporary art is your passion, then MAMbo is a must-visit. This dynamic museum, housed in a purpose-built structure, is dedicated to modern and experimental art. Explore diverse exhibits showcasing established and emerging Italian and international artists. MAMbo doesn't shy away from pushing boundaries, so expect thought-provoking installations, multimedia pieces, and contemporary takes on traditional mediums. A unique highlight is the Museo Morandi, currently housed within MAMbo. This dedicated space offers an in-depth look at the life and work of Giorgio Morandi, a leading figure in 20th-century Italian art.

Pay your respects at the Basilica of San Domenico

Photo by Wikimedia

This beautiful church holds historical and artistic significance. The final resting place of Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, the basilica houses his elaborately decorated tomb. Art lovers will appreciate the collection of Renaissance paintings by renowned artists like Guido Reni and Guercino.

Visit Palazzo Re Enzo

Photo by Meridiana Immagini/Bologna Welcome
Phoo by M.A. Ghilardi/Bologna Welcome

History buffs will be enthralled by Palazzo Re Enzo, a formidable 13th-century palace towering over Piazza Maggiore. Built to imprison Enzo di Sardegna, King of Sardinia, after his capture by Bolognese forces, the Palazzo Re Enzo now serves as a museum. Climb the crenellated tower for panoramic views and explore the internal halls that once housed the king, which offer glimpses into medieval life in Bologna today.

Take a day trip to Modena

Photo by Enzo Ferrari Museum
Photo by Enzo Ferrari Museum

A short train journey from Bologna lies Modena, another gem of Emilia-Romagna. Gearheads will find themselves in paradise at the Enzo Ferrari Museum, dedicated to the life and work of the legendary automobile founder. Modena is also the birthplace of another culinary icon, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Take a guided tour of a local cheese factory to witness the traditional production process and indulge in a tasting session of this world-famous cheese.

Travel Essentials:

Photo by Manek Singh/Unsplash

Getting to Bologna is a breeze. The Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) offers direct flights from many European cities. Bologna Centrale railway station connects major Italian cities and other European destinations. The city is compact and easily walkable, but a Bologna Welcome Card provides unlimited access to public transportation for a set period.

When to Visit:

Photo by Josef Faustmann/Unsplash

Bologna is a year-round destination, but spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) offer pleasant temperatures and comfortable weather for exploring the city. Summer (June-August) can be hot and crowded, while winter (December-February) sees cooler temperatures and occasional rain showers.



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