Three Days in Bologna, Italy
January 1, 1970
by Alison Lea
Recently my fiancè and I had an exchange student from Belgium come and visit us in Italy for three days. The exchange student had been staying with my family in Australia whilst I have been in Italy and just recently returned home. So, we decided to take advantage of an opportunity to meet each other and Matteo and I did our best to give him a very special tour of only our very favorite places in Bologna.
I feel like we did a pretty good job if I do say so myself, and so I thought I would share my travel itinerary for anyone else who has three days to spare in Bologna and would like to experience as much as they can before they leave. So here we go!
Arriving in Bologna:
Here are a few helpful tips for arriving in the beautiful city of Bologna by bus, train or plane…
Arriving by bus or train:
Arriving by train into Stazione Centrale or by bus into the Autostazione is pretty simple, just head towards the bus stop outside the Autostazione or towards the buses in Piazza D’oro and there will be a heap of buses you can choose from to arrive in the center or to arrive at your Airbnb etc. Another option could be to take a 15-20min walk into the center, but obviously, this depends on how much luggage you have with you whether or not this would be the best option.
Arriving by plane:
One handy, money-saving tip when arriving into Bologna Airport by plane is to either take a city bus rather than the airport bus, or if you can find yourself a group, take a taxi together to Stazione Centrale instead forking out your life savings (an exaggeration but it is completely overpriced) for the airport bus. This is because the airport bus (BLQ Aerobus) will cost you six euros each way whereas a regular city bus ticket (for buses 91 and 81 that are about a ten-minute walk away from the airport entrance) will only cost you 1,30 euro for a 60min ticket that you can use on multiple different buses (as long as you validate it each time you change bus). These bus tickets can be bought from the supermarket at the airport, or on board the bus at an extra cost of 20cents. On the other hand, a taxi shared between three or more people, depending on the time of day, will be cheaper or roughly the same as each person buying a ticket for the Bologna Airport Aerobus. So this can definitely be a great option when traveling in a group with too much luggage to justify walking those extra 10 minutes to the city bus stop.
Okay now that we have the logistics out of the way, we can move on to the exciting stuff ie. the actual itinerary, here is day one…
Time to Recharge:
So once you are all settled into your accommodation the first thing you absolutely MUST do is check out Papparè, they have the world’s best vegan brioches and sometimes you’ll even find a cake or two. For you non-vegans out there, there are a whole lot of other sweets and treats. Coffee, juice and/or tea is an option as well, I just recommend you to go because I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. The café is just steps away from the Two Towers in the city center, right near Feltrinelli bookshop so it’s a good spot to recharge before beginning your exploration of the city.
Fountain of Neptune and Sala Borsa:
So once you have enjoyed yourself a good sweet, it is time to head over to Piazza Maggiore and just take in the newly-opened, re-furnished Fountain of Neptune. One thing you must know about Bologna is that there are “seven secrets” throughout the city and in these three days we will uncover most of them! So to witness your first one I recommend standing at the steps of Sala Borsa and looking in the direction of Neptune, this secret is quite an immature one, I know but… it’s on the list. Once you have had a little giggle, head into Sala Borsa and check out the colorful library and it’s excavated ruins below the floor…it’s free!
Archway of Palazzo Podestá:
Your next step will be to head into the Archway of Palazzo Podestá located in the center of the Piazza, find a friend, and stand at opposite sides of the archway facing the corners. Try speaking to one another, you’ll find that you can have a full-blown conversation! I have no clue how it works, but it’s pretty cool regardless.
San Petronio and Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio:
The cathedral San Petronio is right at the back of the Piazza and this will be your chance to go inside and visit it, it’s absolutely stunning inside and there is even the Meridian Line mapped out through the center of the cathedral. Afterwards, I would head on past the outside of the cathedral, to the left, towards the Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio (it’s another Library) however one with a very impressive never-ending line of bookshelves (really, it’s incredible) and collection of family coat of arms.
Now is time for a good old glass of authentic Italian spritz! My favorite bar is one on Via Nazario Sauro called the Pantheon Café, just look out for a big pink “BAR” sign at the beginning of the road, closest to Via Ugo Bassi and stop in there for a thirst-quenching Aperol Spritz, this is a must!
La Piccola Venezia (little Venice):
This is another secret that you may or may not have already seen photos of. In the special case that you are just as clueless as I was the first time, I just suggest you go to the address, open up the door in the wall and discover it completely organically yourself. It is much more special that way! I would love to include a photo of what you will find, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise!
For the last stop of the night before bed, you must check in to at least one (or if you’re truly hungry after all the exploring I mean by all means go for both) of Bologna’s most famous Pizza restaurants! There are two options on my list: the cheap, student, sit outside on the street-kind of pizza experience at Pizza Casa for around 2,50 euros per pizza or…you can head down to a bit more of a “formal” setting at Spacca Napoli. Either way, you will get an authentic pizza-eating Bolognese-style experience and you’ll get to eat pizza…I can’t think of anything better.
It’s time for a wonderful walk after last night’s delicious pizza! Are you ready to climb some stairs? For the walk, I have chosen my absolute favorite route in Bologna for you to try out, the stairs to San Luca. San Luca is a cathedral located on the top of the tallest hill surrounding Bologna. There is an archway to follow from the city center that will lead you all the way up to the top of the hill. The view at the top, and on the way, is way worth the trek and if you are lucky enough to go on a Friday or Saturday you can even get access to a lookout at the top of the cathedral. This activity will probably take a total of two to three hours so after this, you can relax and have lunch wherever you please.
The Two Towers (Torre degli Asinelli):
This is another really fun, stair-filled activity! Now that the tallest tower of the two is open for climbing after maintenance, I recommend taking advantage of your luck and heading over to Bologna Welcome in Pizza Maggiore to pick up your tickets! When you get your tickets they will give you a time slot to enter the tower so just walk down to the tower entrance as soon as it is your turn and make your way up to the viewing platform! There is a legend about climbing the tower though… They say that students studying should not climb the tower before they graduate because when students reach the top, their studies are cursed. It is really beautiful though, so if you aren’t phased by lots of stairs and superstitions just do it!
Sette Chiese (Santo Stefano):
Have you ever heard of seven churches all stuck together in one piazza? No? Well now is your chance to visit a piazza that has just that! Santo Stefano was always one of my favorite places, it’s just so cool and plus when there is some sun, the piazza is absolutely gorgeous. Go in and explore the churches and take a look at the tiny museum located at the back. When you are finished exploring, make your way through Corte Isolani on the left of the Piazza to discover another secret of the city…
The Three Arrows:
This secret may cause neck pain, however, give it a try anyway. Once you have walked all the way through Corte Isolani you will find yourself on Strada Maggiore. Here you need to look up at the roof of the archway and search for three arrows logged into the wood. The story recounts that in medieval times, some bad guys were trying to shoot a street merchant with arrows and accidentally misfired, shooting three into the wooden roof when they were distracted by a beautiful woman. Try to find all three!
You deserve a drink!
Drink time on Via Zamboni, go on over to The Irish Pub and have a seat. This pub is close to where you’ll have dinner tonight so it is the perfect location to take some time to just relax.
Tonight is your last night in Bologna and what better way to spend it then with 10euros for a drink and buffet. At Café Zamboni the food is great, there is even Sushi and it is one of the most popular places for students to grab an aperativo in the city so you must not miss it before you head out tomorrow.
Today is your last day so it depends on how much time you have until you leave. I will list a few good activities and you can decide which work best for you.
This is a beautiful garden full of student life if you are wanting to take a stroll in a park or to have a sweet little picnic. It’s located in the south-west of Bologna right on the edge of the city walls. I recommend going if you have the chance!
If you are looking for a little bit of modern art culture, this is the place for you. In the direction of Stazione Centrale, you will find this cool museum with an artsy garden out the back. It is a typical modern art museum that is not too overwhelming to just go see in one day. Plus, if you go on the first Sunday of the month, entry is free!
Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande:
Another great museum to visit on your last day is the interactive exhibit on the history of Bologna. It is really fun and just interesting to learn a little bit more about how Bologna came to be the city it is today. This exhibit is also super close to the center of the city so it has a great location.
La Margherita Bar Vegano:
Do not ask questions just go here and order a slice of crostata, it is incredible and you will not regret it. Hot chocolate is also on offer and you must try Italian hot chocolate if you are a chocolate fan whilst you are here because it is pretty much just a cup of melted chocolate, yum!
So those are all of my many suggestions for your three days in Bologna. Try out as many as you can because you will not regret it, but most of all just enjoy your trip!