48 Hours In: Bologna

This cosmopolitan city in northern Italy entices with dazzling culture, rich history and – naturally – food. By Aoife O'Riordain



Click here for
48Hours



In...Bologna map

Travel essentials

Emilia Romagna's alluring capital is more accessible from this week, thanks to the launch of new flights from Gatwick. A city of towers and tortelloni (and the birthplace of Italy's most celebrated sauce), Bologna can lay claim to some of the best cuisine in the country. As home to Europe's oldest university, the city is richly endowed with history and culture. The annual Bologna Festival (00 39 051 649 3397; bolognafestival.it), now in its 30th year, has just got under way; a programme of classical concerts continues until September.

Touch down

Bologna has three airlines competing from Gatwick. The new arrival, easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com), is taking on British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) – the latter also has connections from Stansted and Edinburgh.

Guglielmo Marconi airport is just 6km north-west of the city centre. A shuttle bus (atc.bo.it; €3 each way) leaves every 15 minutes, stopping at Bologna's main train station (1) to the north of the old centre and Piazza Maggiore (2). A taxi will set you back around €20.

Check in

With interior frescos by the Carracci brothers, canopied beds and perfectly pressed linen sheets, the recently redecorated Grand Hotel Majestic (3), at Via Indipendenza 8 (00 39 051 22 54 45; lhw.com/ghmajesticbaglioni) is the city's most elegant place to stay. Doubles start at €230, including breakfast. The charming Art Hotel Orologio (4) at Via IV Novembre 10 (00 39 051 745 7411; art-hotel-orologio.it) is steps from the Piazza Maggiore and has doubles from €144, including breakfast. Antica Casa Zucchini (5), at Via Santo Stefano 36 (00 39 347 911 0731; anticacasazucchini.it), is a small B&B set in a historic 16th-century residence in the heart of the old city. Doubles start at €130, including breakfast.

Get your bearings

Bologna's centro storico is contained within the erstwhile walls of the city, originally entered by 12 gates. It is a picturesque tangle of medieval streets, arcades, churches and imposing Renaissance palazzi in an appealing palette of dusky pinks and burnt umber, which give the city the nickname La Rossa.

Bologna's spiritual and geographical heart is the gracious Piazza Maggiore (2), flanked by some of the city's most important landmarks. Two of Bologna's main thoroughfares converge here; Via Indipendenza and Via Ugo Bassi – the decuman, or main entrance, of the Roman city. Bologna is best explored on foot, helped by the fact that traffic is heavily restricted during the day in the historic centre – a perfect excuse for aimless wandering. The main tourist office (6) is in the Palazzo de Podestà, Piazza Maggiore 1 (00 39 051 239 660; bolognaturismo.info), but is mid-renovation; a smaller office is open just behind, 9am-7pm daily.

Day one

Cultural morning

Bologna was home to western Europe's first university, established in 1088. From 1563 until 1803 its first official home was in the Archiginnasio (7), at Piazza Galvani 1 (00 39 051 276 811; archiginnasio.it), now the main city library. Open 9am-1.45pm Saturdays, to 6.45pm from Monday to Friday, closed Sundays; free. Its beautiful arcades are adorned with more than 7,000 hand-painted coats of arms of former students. The first floor is home to the stunning wooden 1637 Anatomical Theatre.

In the heart of the university quarter, the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (8), Via Belle Arti 56 (00 39 051 420 9411; pinacotecabologna.it), houses an impressive collection that includes works by Tintoretto, Titian, Giotto and Carracci (9am-7pm daily except Sunday, €4).

Those with more contemporary leanings could also visit the city's newer modern art gallery MAMbo (9) at Via Don Minzoni (00 39 051 649 6611; mambo-bologna.org), whose permanent and temporary exhibitions are displayed in a former bakery. It opens at noon daily except Monday, closing at 8pm at weekends, 10pm on Thursday and 6pm on other days; €6.

Window shopping

The Via Farini has all the luxury fashion and accessory brands, and is also where you find the blue-chip boutiques of the Galleria Cavour (10). The shops of Via Indipendenza and Via Ugo Bassi offer less credit-card melting options. Many shops close between 1pm and 4.30pm.

To understand why Bologna is known as La Grassa or "The Fat One", visit the medieval Mercato di Mezzo in the Quadrilatero district just off the Piazza Maggiore (2). Don't miss hand-made mortadella sausage from Simoni (11) at Via Drapperie 5 (00 39 051 231 880), nor and the local Parmesan-like cheese, sua maesta il nero, at Vecchia Malga Negozi (12) at Via Pescherie Vecchie (00 39 051 223 940).

Lunch on the run

Take a picnic from the market to the Osteria del Sole (13), at Vicolo Ranocchi (00 34 8 225 6887; osteriadelsole.it), which has been open since 1465. No food is served but you can order a glass of wine for €2 and tuck into your spoils at one of several tables dotted around its two rooms.

A walk in the park

The Giardini Margherita, named after the same queen as the pizza, is a verdant sprawl of gardens, open since 1879. Stroll the shady avenues of lime, cedar, sycamore and oak where you can also see two reconstructed huts of an Etruscan settlement (14) uncovered during the construction of the gardens. Open 6am-midnight, free.

An aperitif

Even cocktail hour is an excuse to eat. Order an Aperol spritz (€7.50) at the chic café and bar Gamberini (15), at Via Ugo Bassi 12 (00 39 051 29 60 467; gamberini1907.com), and you can choose from an array of tasty treats laid out on the bar to accompany it.

Dining with the locals

Book in advance to secure a table at Da Gianni (16), tucked down a small alleyway close to the Piazza Maggiore at Via Clavature 18 (00 39 051 229 434; closed Mondays). Sample delicious Bolognese fare such as green lasagne, tortellini in brodo, veal cutlets and a superior Bolognese ragu – eaten only with tagliatelle, not spaghetti.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Domenico, who established the order of Dominican Fathers, founded the Basilica di San Domenico (17) in the early 13th century. He was laid to rest here, and his tomb is adorned with two statues later sculpted by Michelangelo. Mass is celebrated on Sundays at 10.30am, noon and 6pm (00 39 51 581 718; centrosandomenico.it).

Out to brunch

Brunch is still something of a novelty here – most just prefer a coffee and something sweet. Join the Sunday morning buzz at the fashionable Caffè Pasticceria Zanarini (18) on the corner of Piazza Galvani and Via Farini (00 39 51 27 50 041). Order a creamy cappuccino for €1.50 plus a delicious pastry such as a crema-filled cornetto or bombolone.

Take a hike

Start at the north-eastern corner of Piazza del Nettuno (19) and admire the city's most celebrated water feature, the Fountain of Neptune, also known as "The Giant".

The piazza is overlooked by the Palazzo Re Enzo (20), which became the luxurious prison of Enzio, king of Sardinia in 1249. Aim south-west across the square to the adjoining Piazza Maggiore (2), flanked by several of Bologna's most impressive landmarks: the magnificent 13th-century Palazzo del Podestà, the City Halls and the huge Basilica di San Petronio (21), currently undergoing a facelift in time for its 350th anniversary in 2013.

Along its southern edge is the Palazzo dei Banchi (22), built in 1412 to hide the narrow streets of the market behind and named after the banks and moneychangers that once occupied the site. Cross the square and bear right under the Palazzo dei Banchi's portico. This, the Pavaglione, is the finest section of Bologna's 50 kilometres of covered walkways (a Bolognese will never bother taking an umbrella when going out for a walk).

Pass the Piazza Galvani (23) to your right, cross the Via Farini and look up to the ceiling of the portico of the Palazzo della Banca d'Italia (24), with its stunning 19th-century decorations by Gaetano Lodi.

Continue along the upmarket Via Farini until it meets Via Santo Stefano and the Abbey of Santo Stefano (25) – actually a cluster of seven churches and a museum. Head along Via Santo Stefano until you reach the shadow of the Asinelli and Garisenda towers (26), at Piazza di Porta Ravegnana under the loggia of the Palazzo della Mercanzia.

Take a view

"Le Due Torri", as these twin towers are known, were among more than 100 feudal towers built by wealthy families for protection and ostentation in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Garisenda tower, which was immortalised by Dante, has a decidedly tipsy slant. Climb the steps of the taller, 97m Torre degli Asinelli (€3, 9am-6pm daily) for views over the city and the rolling green hills beyond.

The icing on the cake

The most extraordinary of the porticoes is the Portico di San Luca, which connects the Porta Saragozza (27) with The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca (28), which sits atop the Colle della Guardia hill above the city. Reputedly the world's longest stretch of porticoes, this architectural marvel extends for 3.8km and features 666 arches (00 39 51 614 2339; sanlucabo.org).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?