Discover Bologna’s secrets inside and outside the city walls

Bologna; a medieval city with kilometres of porticos, frescos and gravity defying towers; the foodie capital of Italy and close to some of the world’s top supercar factories and museums. There really is something for everyone here.

Known with affection locally as Bo, Bologna is a beautifully compact city that you can pretty much just turn up to and potter around, no need for public transport or concrete plans. I’ve loved exploring it both with kids and without. It’s a curiously magical mix of historic architecture, hidden secrets and the buzz of a modern student city.

Cover image credit: istockphoto.com/Iurii_Buriak

Inside the city

The Two Towers

At 97.2 meters, The Torre degli Asinelli is the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world.

Built between 1109 and 1119 it is one of twenty towers that have survived in Bologna. With its little sister, the Garisenda, The Two Towers have come to symbolise Bologna. Despite the noticeable lean, you can climb the 498 stairs to the top to take in the views.

Reward yourself after with a two Euro pizza slice to go from Pizzeria Due Torro, it’s the best pizza, but be prepared to queue and overlook a bit of brusqueness. Head to Museo della Storia di Bologna if you want to understand more about the history behind Bologna’s mind boggling architecture.

Piazza Maggiore

The main square hosts several impressive buildings as well as the famous Poseidon fountain, street artists and entertainers.

Shopping

Image credit: Penny Alexander

Switching between sightseeing, eating and shopping in Bologna is effortless, spellbinding medieval architecture, covered walkways, porticoes and modern shops intermingle and beautiful squares host bric a brac, vintage and Christmas markets.

Secret Window

Woman looking through windowImage credit: Penny Alexander

On via Piella, in the area known as Little Venice, there is a small window in a graffiti-covered wall (sometimes closed, but there’s a hinged door you can open). Take a peek into the well-hidden Canale delle Moline.

The former Jewish Ghetto

The 16th-century Jewish Ghetto is a maze of alleys, covered bridges and small windows which tells the story of a whole community forced to live in a specific area of the town by order of the Papal State.

San Luca

Image credit: Penny Alexander

Walk through a world record breaking 4km of porticoes, made up of 600 arches, to Santuario di San Luca , or if your legs (or little legs) can’t make it, take the San Luca Express toy train. It’s a fine way to appreciate Bologna’s architecture and the pretty views, plus top class pizzeria Vito A San Luca awaits you.

Bike in Bo

Smiling people on bicyclesImage credit: Penny Alexander

Reclaim the streets as part of a Bolonga bike hire group tour, bells ringing, horns honking, stopping at osterias you would never find without a local, for tapas. Bike in Bo’s gorgeous Honululu bikes are sturdy with big wheels to cope with cobbles and can also be hired by the day and delivered to your hotel.

 Eat Bologna

Inside of a restaurant with cups and bottlesImage credit: Penny Alexander

Osteria De’Poeti, is a traditional eatery frequented by stars, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. It used to be a wine cellar, the barrels built into the walls may be empty now, but atmospheric and underground Poeti sustains its reputation as a great place to eat, drink wine and celebrate. This is the place to sample Bologna’s traditional dishes: Tortellini, Tagliatelle alla Bolognese and Mortadella.

Rooftop Drinks

Building rooftopsImage credit: Penny Alexander

People come from all over to have a drink on the Hotel Touring roof terrace and enjoy the incredible views over the city. This family-run hotel offers a really friendly welcome and the roof terrace is open to guests and non-guests. The views, through the city’s ancient cathedrals and medieval towers, especially with the church bells ringing, feel magical.

Outside the City

Once you’ve had your fill of Bologna’s dizzying architecture, head out to meet the makers behind the incredible food scene, or get your supercar fix.

Meet the makers

A cheese wheel on a shelfImage credit: Penny Alexander

Beyond Bologna, you can tour factories producing Parmigianno Reggiano, Balsamic and Prosciutto. Italian Days offer the No.1 Food Tour, which comes highly recommended, it starts with fizzy wine and cheese at 8 am to celebrate the birth of a new batch of Parmigianno Reggiano, visits a balsamic and prosciutto producer and ends with a traditional lunch in the country, or why not hire a car and design your own tour.

Acetaia Villa San Donnino, near Spilamberto, makes incredible Balsamic Vinegar. I loved the sense of legacy here, as the villa continues the tradition of balsamic making passed down over 3 generations. It’s open daily but advance booking is recommended.

You can also book indirectly for a visit to many Parmigianno Reggiano dairies, and buy delicious produce direct from the maker afterwards.

Motor Valley

Drive along the Via Emilia route and discover Motor Valley – factories and museums dedicated to engines such as Ferrari (Maranello), Maserati (Modena), Lamborghini (Sant’Agata Bolognese), Ducati (Bologna) and others.