I don’t know which trip started the alliteration of adjectives and names, but when it came to write about Bologna I was stuck. Bountiful Bologna was an option, but it didn’t quite fit. I went back to the basics, so to speak. If you begin there, you’ll enhance your visit to this elegant place.
We had two days in Bologna and it wasn’t enough to see the history that lives there every day. I’d go for a week the next time.
Bologna is a simple city. Although 400,000 people live in the city proper and the seventh most populated city in Italy, everything about the old city center feels like a small town. Bologna is cozy. It’s flat, which made the walking easy. Don’t be deceived, though, step outside the walls of the city and you are in a hilly area.
Your first stop: one of the tourist centers for a free map and advice on where to start. We popped into the one in Piazza Maggiore and found the people most helpful. If you’re staying for more than a day and like museums, invest in the Bologna Welcome Card. It’s E20 and you get admission to multiple museums and discounts—for 48 hours!
Take this link if you’re carrying a smartphone or print the pdf to take along. It’s one of the most well put together city sites I’ve seen. The guide will help you pick a restaurant (Trattoria Leonida and Ristorante Victoria were two we enjoyed), find the museums, and take you shopping if that’s what you like.
Twenty bell towers will captivate you, both silent and ringing. I would have liked to have traipsed around each of them, if not up the hundreds of steps. There’s even one with a bed & breakfast in the top of it. Too many steps for someone carting luggage!
It is a city of porticos. Rainy weather? No matter, you walk for blocks under the most beautiful of coverings. Wide sidewalks, the occasional fresco…who doesn’t want to stroll about? Door knockers of multiple sizes and shapes.
We spent some time in the Basilica of St. Stefano, also known as the seven churches. It was built, in one theory, to represent seven stations of the cross. What I know is that walking on the ancient stones was captivating. I’m glad we paid E5 for the guide because it made strolling through the grounds more interesting. The site’s 2,000 year old history is winding, confusing and always, somehow, religious.
The Piazza Santo Stefano was one of the quietest we’ve seen. Was it because it was mid-day? I don’t know, but it was peaceful and nice.
The Welcome Center also has a flyer for the Hidden Canals in Bologna. Some of these date to the 12th Century and one local proudly told us they are known as the Little Venice. We found a few of them, but not all ten. I didn’t notice any gondolas, probably because too many of the canals were covered starting at the beginning of the twentieth century. Progress?
Bologna’s train station is massive, which was a surprise. We went down multiple levels to catch our train to Siena. Allow additional time for navigating it.
Like the Athena Hotel in Siena, we picked an upgraded room with a city view at the Aemilia Hotel. It’s a deceptive place, looking small and compact on the outside, but actually boasting multiple meeting rooms and an expansive restaurant (with a great breakfast and professional staff). You’re a ten to fifteen-minute walk from the city center.
Bologna is not a place to pass through on your way to a tourist destination city. It is a place to walk, look up, look around, experience every street with purpose and intent. Take your time and let me know what you love the most.