Bologna

Bologna is a historical city, with around 380,000 inhabitants. Although it is well known by Italians, it is less so among foreign visitors. Little English is spoken by its residents. It is the capital and largest city of Emilia-Romagna (a region in northern Italy). Bologna is famed for the oldest university in the Western world, lively student population, exquisite food, typical brick terracotta-roofed architecture and porticos, theatre and nightlife.

Understand

Two towers of Bologna

Bologna is famous for its cuisine (la cucina Bolognese). It is also viewed as a progressive and well-administered city. It is considered second only to Venice in beauty by many Italians and certainly has one of the largest and best preserved historic centers among Italian cities. Its architecture is noted for its palette of terracotta reds, burnt oranges, and warm yellows, hence the name of Bologna la rossa (Bologna the red). The extensive town center, characterized by miles of attractive covered walkways, known as "porticos," is one of the best-preserved in Europe.

Bologna is the seat of the oldest university in continental Europe, founded in 1088. A significant portion of its population consists of away-from-home university students. In common with other Italian university towns, it is in parts marred by excessive graffiti on its historic palaces.

History

The strategic location of the city molded its history. Inhabited since the X Century B.C. -during the Iron Age-, it was fortified by the Celts and became a municipality under the Romans. The presence through the centuries of the Huns, Goths, Lombards, Franks, Austrians and French, have each left traces which are still visible on the city today.

Bologna has struggled for freedom autonomy, having been dominated by emperors, kings, and the Church. It was ruled by the Pepoli and Bentivoglio families, and was a papal fiefdom. The papal power made it a city of the Guelphs, while many of its residents supported the anti-papal Ghibellines. Bologna had the first city council in Italy, and was, with the Liber Paradisus law in 1256, one of the first cities in the world to abolish slavery. This political activity was rooted in the lively environment surrounding the Alma Mater, as the university was known.

Bologna was the home of such personalities as Father Martini, a collector, composer and master of counterpoint who was a notable and complex protagonist of European music of the thirteenth century. Among his students were Johann Christian Bach (son of J.S Bach) and the young W.A Mozart. During the nineteenth century the Philharmonic Academy drew important personalities such as Rossini, Verdi, Brahms, Wagner, Puccini and Liszt.

Bologna was named a Creative City of Music by UNESCO in 2006. Music is performed throughout the city: in the Teatro Comunale(the Opera Theatre), by the Orchestra Mozart youth orchestra, founded and directed by Claudio Abbado, and in clubs and inns where jazz is regularly played. There are open-air concerts and music can be heard at the Conservatory, the Opera School, and hundreds of music associations operating within the territory.

Bologna's scientists have included Galvani and Marconi. Native or visiting painters and artists have included Morandi, Guido Reni, Guercino, the Carraccis, Leonardo (one of the legends about the Mona Lisa tells that this was where he painted his famous masterpiece), Giotto (there was a chapel in Piazza XX Settembre entirely painted a fresco by Giotto which was destroyed when Bologna was fighting against the Pope), Cassini (who made the world’s longest sundial, now located inside Basilica S. Petronio), and Michelangelo (on the arc in Basilica S. Domenico can be found his sculpture of an angel holding a candelabra). Napoleon re-arranged the urban plan of the city and Carlo V was crowned emperor in Bologna's Basilica S. Petronio.

When to visit

Bologna is at its best from March/April to October, when it is warm and there is much outdoor sipping and dining, or just sitting in squares such as Piazza Santo Stefano and Piazza Maggiore. However, during July and August it can be very hot and sticky. In August, as is the case in much of Italy in the summer, many shops and restaurants are closed for the summer vacation.

Winter can be cold, but Bologna is beautiful the two weeks before Christmas. January and February often feature cloudless blue skies, but the clear weather is often the coldest: you will need a coat, scarf, hat and gloves.

Get in

By plane

Bologna's closest airport is Guglielmo Marconi (Bologna) International Airport (IATA: BLQ), just a few minutes from the city center, served by taxi and a special bus line called the Aerobus. A taxi from the airport to the center costs about €15. An Aerobus Ticket costs €6, and it stops outside the main terminus building. The ticket is also valid during 1 hour on the other busses in Bologna. Bus 54 goes towards the west suburbs of Bologna, and will get you on to the 'main' routes. Another bus stop is about 10 minutes walk from the airport (bus stop name: Birra - other side of the elevated motorway) and you can board bus 81 and 91 which have an end stop at Bologna Central Train Station. Bus tickets are valid for 60 minutes travel and cost €1,5. Go to the website of the local bus company, ATC, and you will find maps that show all routes including the airport.

By train

Due to its central location and geography, Bologna has emerged as the main rail transport hub of northern Italy, making it very well-connected with other major Italian centers. From the 14th of December 2008 the new high speed railway line is available from/to Milan, shortening the journey to 65 minutes. Bologna is also 37 minutes from Florence, 2 hours 20 from Rome, 2 hours from Venice, 1 hour from Ferrara, etc. The new high speed train line between Rome and Bologna is now fully available and can make trips much faster.

There is also an overnight sleeper service from Paris Bercy to Bologna. Departs Paris 6:52PM in the evening, and arrives Bologna at 6AM. Return departs Bologna 10:30PM arrives Paris 9:06AM.

By car

The city is at the junction of the A1, A14 and A13 highways, and so is easily accessible from anywhere in Italy. Most traffic from Milan would exit the A1 and take the Tangenziale, but beware this road at rush hour because it is horrendously packed. Expect to use 2 hours from the A1 exit to the Tangenziale to the center at certain peak times over summer busy weekends, especially at the beginning and end of August.

Get around

Layout of the city

The iconic leaning towers (Due Torri) provide a useful central landmark. They are marked in the center of the free map available from the Tourist Information Center in the main square, Piazza Maggiore. The central area around Piazza Maggiore (including the Due Torri and Piazza Santo Stefano can be thought of as the hub of a wheel, with other roads leading out like spokes to the old city gates (Porte) that stud the Viali—a heavily trafficked beltway that surrounds the historical center of the town. The northeast quadrant of the map is the university district (an integral part of the town rather than a separate campus). The two southern quadrants of your map are residential sections of the city, and not common tourist areas. However, Bologna's main park, the Giardini Margherita, is just outside the center (across the Viali from Porta Santo Stefano or Porta Castiglione), beneath the surrounding hills. Also to the south, an extended portico (with 666 arches and almost 4 km long) leads out from the Viali (at Porta Saragozza) up to the baroque Sanctuary of San Luca, which provides another iconic landmark.

Plan your travel

A great place to start planning how to get around Emilia-Romagna region and Bologna city using buses and trains is found here.

Map

Since 2012 Bologna has its version of the Use-it map, a non-commercial map created by young locals. You can find out more on the official page.

By bus

The TPER company is in charge of the buses in Bologna. Useful information can be found on their website. Tickets may be purchased prior to boarding the bus, or on the bus where there are ticket machines. If you see 2 machines on a bus (usually Red and Yellow) the Red one will sell you a ticket (1,5 EUR, valid for 1 hour) and the Yellow one will validate a 'season' or multi trip ticket. Information and ticket centers are available in central locations (railway station, coach station, city center). Useful bus maps are available there. These main ticket centres often sell multi trip tickets at a discount (e.g. €13 worth of travel for €11). You can also purchase tickets in many shops (newspaper sellers, tobacconists, cafes).

By bicycle

Bikes are most popular among the people of Bologna. They are available for rent on various location around the city (Dynamo, the bicycle parking station, can be found nearby the train station). You can ride on the many bike trails and on the side of the road. Be sure to lock them safely with a good lock, as they get stolen all around town, especially around the University.

On foot

Bologna is a great place around which to travel on foot, as getting around the city is very simple with clear street signs. It is also a great way to find hidden gems such as Pizzerias packed with Italians (so you KNOW you reached the right place). Be a bit careful when crossing roads, the city centre swarms with scooters and small motorcycles (cars banned during the day) and they ride them everywhere.

See

The famous Neptune fountain

Museums and art galleries

Museum Card (Carta Bologna dei Musei), Bologna's museum card, is available for either one (€6) or three days (€8). The museum card gives you access to the city's main museums and discounts to some others. It is available at museums and tourist offices.

  1. The Museo Navale (Naval Museum) – 18th-century model warships (some very large) and collections of early maps 8.30-17.30 - closed Sat. and Sun. Admission free;
  2. The Museum of Military Architecture – models of Bologna's fortifications Mon. to Fri. 8.30-17.30 - closed Sat. and Sun. Admission free;
  3. Museo Ostetrico (Obstetric Museum)
  4. The Museo Aldovrandi – the collections of the Renaissance naturalist Ulisse Aldovrandi;
  5. Museo europeo degli Studenti - MeuS – the Museum of European Students is about the history and culture of university students from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Closed on Monday; Admission free. Don't mis this when you are interested in student life. It' s unique.
  6. Museo della Specola, . Occupies the Specola, the astronomical tower built in the beginning of XVIII-century over Palazzo Poggi. The material exposed illustrates the evolution of the astronomic instrumentation through the centuries. Tours begins at the following hours for groups of 15 people maximum. June 24 till July 31 and from August 22 till September 18 from Monday to Sunday: 10:00; 11:30; 14:00 closed August 1 to 21; Sep.19-Dec.31 from Monday to Sunday: 10:00; 11:30; 14:30; 16:00. Free admission.
  7. Collezione Cospi
  8. Museo Dello Studio dell'Ottavo
  9. Museo Indiano
  10. Museo Marsili

See

A view of Bologna from above

Landmarks

Parks and Gardens

Many parks were former private gardens of nobility.

Do

Cooking lessons and culinary tours

Events and Festivals

There's a great film festival with restored silent and sound films throughout July in Piazza Maggiore. In the past, these have included especially Italian and French film, animation shorts from Annecy, archive footage of Bologna (e.g. of its liberation by British and American troops) and modern classics such as The Third Man, Raging Bull, Apocalypse Now and The Pianist. In November there's a chocolate festival in Palozzo Maggiore.

Motor Show Bologna & The Car Museums

There are many exciting events that are worth taking part of during your stay in lively Bologna. If you plan on spending the onset of the winter holidays in Bologna, you can complete your vacation with a visit to the Motorshow Bologna and to the museums that showcase the automobile masterpieces of Italy.

And just nearby lies the three museums you must visit in order to do this. These are the Ducati Museum, the Lamborghini Museum, and the Ferrari Museum or Galleria Ferrari. To fully appreciate the Ducati Museum you can join guided tours by obtaining advanced reservations. The museum is open daily except on Sundays and holidays. To enter, you will need to join a tour, you can choose from the 11AM or the 4PM schedule. The tour of the museum and factory costs 10 euro. Next, you can make your way to the Lamborghini Museum, which is in the area that connects Bologna with neighboring city Modena. It lies at about 21 miles from Bologna and can be easily driven to. The museum was established in 2001 and aims to celebrate one of the most expensive Italian cars in the world. To complete your unique museum-hopping, head over to Ferrari Museum or Galleria Ferrari. The museum is situated in Maranello, a town just outside Modena and located around 34 miles from Bologna. Although the museum is part of Ferrari’s headquarters, it has its own building separate from the Ferrari factory. Of the three museums in your itinerary, the Ferrari Museum is the oldest, dating back to 1990. The museum spans an amazing 2,500 sq/m and is divided into four sections, namely the Formula One collection, the special exhibits, the technological innovation exhibit, and the photo exhibits.

The Formula One collection displays the extraordinary race cars that have played a monumental role in making Ferrari the most famous automobile maker in the world. One of the most remarkable cars is the first Ferrari 125 S that was built in 1947 and won a race in the same year. And to give you a glimpse of what F1I racing is all about, you can check out the Fiorano test track next to the museum where you might even see a Ferrari racing past.

Music venues

Bologna is an Italian hub for rock, electronic and alternative music. There are almost a hundred concerts every year by international bands. Unfortunately many of these locations have moved outside the city center. The main places to check out are Covo Club, Estragon and Link .

Buy

Hand-made tortellini for sale in Bologna

The key to shopping in Italy is to look in every little shop as you walk around, paying attention to price tags. Please take note that the hours listed usually specify a closure in the afternoons. There is no one place to get the perfect pair of shoes or the perfect ties or the perfect anything: you have to look all over, but this is half the fun. If you can't find what you want at the price you want to pay for it, keep looking, chances are you will find something somewhere else that will work perfectly.

Don't miss the chance to buy local food, such as hand-made pastas and gorgeous cheeses, from any of the hundreds of small vendors and shops to be found in the city. At least half the experience of visiting Bologna is the gastronomic pleasure!

If you have money to spend (a lot perhaps ...) you have to go in 'Galleria Cavour', near 'Via Farini' with a lot of chic high fashion shops and trendy outlets (Armani, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace ... etc. ...)

Another "shop street" is "via San Felice" near "via Ugo Bassi" with a lot of small shops that made artigianal dresses (sugarbabe), artshop (elzapoppin), art galleries and (as usual) shoes and dresses shop.

Eat

There are many choices for where to eat, as Bologna is generally considered to be the gastronomic centre of Italy, the Food Capital. It is difficult to find a truly poor meal as the Bolognese, like most Italians, use fabulous quality local produce with sparkling ingenuity.

A savory plate of traditional Bologna Salumi e Formaggi (cured meat and cheese)
Indulge yourself with a little red meat and a side of red wine at a little Enoteca

Drink

Consider visiting the many pubs and clubs of Via Zamboni (university zone); some, such as "The Irish Pub", popular with students and foreigners, give happy hours on Tuesday/Wednesday. "Al Piccolo" down the road in Piazza Verdi is another famous student haunt, a live DJ playing techno into the early mornings. Otherwise, the Via Pratello has many bars and is the center of the city's alternative scene. Worth a look in particular is "Mutanye", whose owner is reputed to have been part of the Red Brigade in his youth, hence the many soviet posters. Via Mascarella, in the northeast area of the city, has plenty of nightspots, among them two jazz clubs. And, finally, check out the many bars and pubs hosting music contests and concerts, from rock to jazz to "liscio", the traditional folk songs in Emilia-Romagna.

Sleep

Bologna has always been famous for its hospitality: its welcoming service is very effective and makes Bologna a perfect place for tourists. Bologna cultural heritage as well as its wine and food makes it an ideal destination to spend a weekend or a holiday different times of the year.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Go next

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