We have been to Bologna and area now several times. The city is a delight, non-touristy, perfect for foodies and the cultural-traveler.
In this list, we share the best things to do in Bologna – touristy and local, fun and free!
We teamed up with WE Bologna, the 5 Star Hostel in the city. Although we soaked in the cities culture, we are barely an expert. Therefore, the WE Bologna team and Hostelgeeks are keen to share with you the best activities, day trips and restaurants you’ve to put on your list when visiting.
Talking about other cities, check out our tips to:
- 5 secret things to do in Venice
- 22 restaurants to eat in Venice
- 5 non-touristy things to do in Florence
- best travel tips for Rome
The city of Bologna is still a hidden gem between the major tourist destinations of Venice, Florence, Milan, and Rome.
Here are what awaits you in Bologna:
- Climb the Torre Degli Asinelli
- Find the hidden canals (Look at the canal from the Finestrella di via Piella)
- Admire a million arches
- Enjoy Italians Master Cuisine
- Cooking Class
- Have a red wine in the oldest Osteria del Sole
- Bike Rental and Social Hub
- Bike Tours with Dynamo
- 7 Churches in 1: Santo Stefano
- Slow Food Market
- Trekking on the hills
- Discover the parks and gardens of Bologna
- Local Art of Movie Making
- Best Restaurant in Bologna? Fantoni!
- My Favorite restaurant: Marsalino
- Have a tour of Bologna Sotterranea (on the ancient canals of the City) with Vitruvio
- Free Walking Tour
- Via Mascarella
- Jazz Night Out
- Bologna Stadium for a match
- Binario 69 – Night Club
- Events at WE Bologna
- OZ – biggest indoor extreme sport
- Street Art
- Head Over to Venice
- Visit Florence for the day
- Day Trip to Parma (cheese & ham)
- Unique bar: Le Serre dei Giardini
- Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca
Best Things to Do in Bologna
We want to start this sum-up with the most famous things to do. We will cover many interesting things to do and a few quirky things. Please allow me to inspire you a bit. There is much more than the tower.
Keep scrolling and take a few notes, I hope you will enjoy this list as much as I enjoyed researching it for you.
1. Climb the Torre Degli Asinelli
Bologna’s very city center is marked by two leaning towers. Watch out, Pisa!
The two leaning towers, named Asinelli and Garisenda are leaning towards each other. As a fun activity, we recommend climbing up the Torre Degli Asinelli. It is the taller one with 498 steps to take.
Enjoy the amazing view of the city from the bird’s perspective!
You have to purchase a ticket at Welcome Bologna, the official tourism board. It’s a 5 minutes walk from the tower to the ticket office. Get a ticket for a specific time slot. You will have 45 minutes to walk up, admire the views, and walk down again.
Needless to say, bring your camera. You can see Bologna as a whole as well as the famous San Luca church and its 670 arches.
Insider tip: Check the sunset time for your day of visit and then go up!
2. Find the hidden canals
(Look at the canal from the Finestrella di via Piella)
If you’ve done already a bit of research, you already found some info on the hidden canals in Bologna. Although it is not Venice, it gives you an idea. The city has canals running all under the is visible.
There is a tiny window, the Finestrella di via Piella. Open the window and have a look.
Oh…at the end of the street “di via Piella“ you will find the best restaurant in Bologna, the Trattoria Nonna Gigia.
Come here for the daily menu. But I will have this again in detail below.
3. Admire a million arches
Bologna stands for arches. Bologna stands on arches. Literally.
In Bologna’s architecture, you will find arches all over the place. They are beautiful and quite majestic. I enjoyed walking below them every single time.
On a Sunday, the main streets close for traffic. So at the main artery between the train station and Piazza Maggiore you can take awesome photos. It’s a photo with the arches on the right-hand side, and the two leaning towers at the end of the street.
4. Enjoy Italians Master Cuisine
Of course, I have to mention the extra outstanding cuisine of Bologna and area in the top 5 things to do in Bologna. There is no way around it.
I’ve to admit, I don’t consider myself a huge foodie-nerd. However, in Bologna, I make an exception.
With the parma cheese, parma ham, authentic bolognese sauce, Modena vinegar, and everything in between, this city is a foodies heaven.
The daily menus cost around 10€, and you can enjoy a huge pizza for only 5€.
5. Cooking Class
I am a big fan of Italian cuisine, that’s most likely no secret anymore. The best way to understand the Italian way of cooking is taking a cooking class. You can find several classes that have special offers.
Here are what you can try out:
- Bologna: 3–Day Cooking Class
- Bologna: Home Cooking Experience & Walking Tour
- Bologna: Cooking Class and Dinner with a Local Cook
6. Have a red wine in the oldest Osteria del Sole
They don’t serve food, you can bring your own food! popular for parties, birthdays!
A glass of wine with a takeaway lunch (from the near Tamburini or the Pizzeria Altero) at the Osteria del Sole (the osteria only has drinks, but people use to go there and bring food from the near places and eat it there with a glass of wine), the most ancient “osteria” in Bologna.
Address: Vicolo Ranocchi, 1, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy
If you bring enough time with you, there are numerous fun things and day tours from Bologna to take. The day tours itself sound like a fantastic travel experience. So here it goes:
- 2-Hour Book a Like-Minded Local Host
- Ducati, Pagani, Lamborghini Factory & Museum Tour
- 3.5-Hour Food Tasting and Walking Tour
7. Bike Rental and social hub
Dynamo is a spit near the main train station. You can rent your bike here and it’s a stylish cafe in summer. In winter, the coffee shop is closed.
The Dynamo also organizes night events. Keep an eye on their website if you are looking for some nightlife things to do in Bologna.
Address: Via Indipendenza 71 / Z, 40121, Bologna
8. Bike Tours with Dynamo
As mentioned, you can rent a bike at Dynamo.
And you can also join their bike tours. The team takes you around the city. They share background stories and bring you to a couple of the best places to visit in Bologna. Some of them are already mentioned in this article, yet, I recommend taking this tour. It’s always something unique and the guide will give you even more tips we have most likely no idea about.
This is a perfect tour to get to know Bologna in less than 3 hours. Really recommended!
Address: Via Indipendenza 71 / Z, 40121, Bologna
9. 7 Churches in 1: Santo Stefano
The church of Santo Stefano is more than just a good-looking religious building. From the outside, it looks quite bulky.
Santo Stefano combines 7 seven churches in one. This is what makes Santo Stefano so special.
10. Slow Food Market
Have you ever heard of Slow Food? It basically means the food comes to the region, it is locally produced. Another commonly used term is „Kilometer 0“.
Take a tour in the most trendy and local food markets: the Earth Market by Slow Food on Saturday morning. Find more details on the market on the official website here.
Another nice market to visit is the Mercato Delle Erbe, near Via Belvedere, with all its bars and cafès.
Last but not least, the Mercato di Mezzo is also popular among locals. This one you can find right near Piazza Maggiore.
11. Trekking on the hills
For a day out of the city, locals love to go trekking.
The park „Parco di Villa Ghigi“ is a popular choice. You can come here by taking the CAI trails 902 and 904. I am including here a map so you don’t get lost.
Remember to bring water and some snacks for your trekking.
12. Discover the parks and gardens of Bologna
There is many parks and green areas around the city. Especially in Spring and Summer, this is the place to hang. Here you find a map with all parks and gardens in Bologna.
Personally, I would order a pizza to go and eat it in the park. This is what I usually do.
13. Local Art of Movie Making
A more alternative thing to do in Bologna watching a film in the Cineteca di Bologna. The Italian movie scene is big and a lot of world classics were produced right here. Cineteca di Bologna offers movies with English subtitles.
You can find the currently playing movies here.
Good to know: If you go on Saturday morning, there is a nice local market taking place right in front of the cinema. Combine it and try the local dishes before walking into the cinema.
14. Best Restaurant in Bologna? Fantoni!
This was my favorite restaurant in Bologna until I discovered Marsalino.
That’s not to say I don’t go to Fantoni anymore, I do.
Fantoni is more of a classic place with delicious dishes for as little as 12€. Read all the reviews and find the menu of Fantoni on Tripadvisor.
15. My favorite restaurant: Marsalino
Compared with Fantoni, Marsalino is more for students and hipsters, if you will. The waiters are young, super fun, really friendly, and speak English.
I loved it so much, I went here the next day as well. They offer a daily menu with a starter, main dish, and an optional dessert.
It is a really small place right downtown. I recommend making a reservation before coming. Otherwise, you will need to wait around 20-30 minutes.
Find their menu on Tripadvisor.
16. Have a tour of Bologna Sotterranea (on the ancient canals of the City) with Vitruvio
See the hidden tunnel of Bologna and witness history that was used during World War II. You can check the details in this link we have provided.
17. Free Walking Tour
Earlier before we mentioned the bike tour by Dynamo. You can also go on walking tours. There is a free walking tour in Bologna, we joined the first time back in 2016. It does not run every day at the moment.
Make sure you check out their website and meeting point.
I joined the free walking tour, it was quite fun. Many people from the hostel WE Bologna joined alongside. After the tour ended, we all went for a typical Aperitivo in the student’s district. A great night out to mingle with new friends!
18. Via Mascarella for Aperitivo and drinks
The street „Via Mascarella“ is the best place in Bologna to go for an Aperitivo. A place we recommend specifically is Modo Infoshop. It is an actual Book shop and bar with great cocktails. Try the „Moscow mule“ with real ginger.
The second place for Aperitivo is Zappa. It is a fairly small brewery with two places, perfect for Italian local craft beer.
19. Jazz Night Out
Right in the same street, Via Mascarella, there are two Jazz Clubs to visit for live music and a good cup of red wine.
The jazz clubs are:
• Borgo di San Pietro Jazz Club
• Cantina Bentivoglio
• Take Five
20. Bologna Stadium for a match
Did you know Bologna has a football team in the first division, the A-League?
The team is a middle-class team with an exciting fan base, celebrating every touch of the football by their players. The tickets are usually cheap and you can enter for as little as 15€.
Check out the official website for tickets here.
21. Binario 69 – Night Club
Looking for a fun night out?
Binario 69 is one of the coolest places for nightlife in Bologna. It is only closed on Monday nights; that should tell you something. They offer live music and DJ sets.
Bear in mind, you need a card to get in, a membership required. Official the Binary 69 is an association and you get your member card at the club itself. The membership is a one-time payment of a few EUR. A lot of Erasmus students come here to mingle, to party, and to forget the pressure from university life.
Address: Via de’ Carracci, 69/7d, 40129 Bologna BO, Italy
22. Events at WE_Bologna
The only 5 Star Hostel in Bologna organizes cultural events in summer. From live music, DJ sets, movie nights, cooking classes, language exchange, and more.
There is a big variety that even locals love to come over. The crowd joining is local students, Erasmus students, travelers, and young locals.
Keep an eye on the WE_Bologna website here to check on their regular events.
23. OZ – biggest indoor extreme sport
Another alternative thing to do in Bologna, the biggest indoor extreme Sports park. Same as Binary 69 Club, you have to be a member here to enter. The OZ is a big Skateboard with lots of parkour, etc!
Contact: +39 328 956 5823
Address: Via Stalingrado, 59, 40128 Bologna BO, Italy
24. Street Art
Bologna is a city known for its left wing’s politics and students. Somehow, it is quite normal that there must be street art, right?!
You won’t be disappointed. Around the student’s area, you will find lots of well-done and interesting street art. Also, keep your eyes open in every part of the city, there is street art everywhere.
We already mentioned Binario 69 on our list of the coolest things to do in Bologna. A quick reminder, it is a night club. Scroll up again for more info. Their outdoors is covered in cool street art. Come over for a walk, it is only a 15 minutes walk from the city center.
The following tips cover the best day trips from Bologna.
Due to its location, you can visit sports history, gorgeous Venice and Florence and an endless number of wineries. Of course, there is always a lot of food to try. Let us have a look.
25. Head over to Venice
Venice is one of my favorite cities in Europe and the world. This is quite surprising since I usually do not like touristy cities at all. And yet, if you tuck away from the tourist path and San Marco Square, you will find a different, less-busy side of Venice. Anyway…
Venice is only a 1 1/2 train ride away from Bologna. It is perfect! The train station in Venice is right at the entrance. It takes you around 20 minutes to walk to the famous San Marco Square.
Download our guide for the best things to do in Venice – to discover the local things.
Venice is perfect for couples and families, that’s no secret at all. It is also quite an experience for solo-travelers. For the solo-travelers, make sure you stay at the best hostel in town, the Combo Hostel (formerly called We Crociferi).
Here is our full review of Combo Hostel.
This hostel is a former monastery, even recommended for families and groups. It’s also quite romantic…so, if you are looking for romantic accommodation, Romeo and Julia, WE Crociferi is the place to be! Read here a full guide on where to stay in Venice.
26. Visit Florence for the day
The second best day trip from Bologna is heading over to Florence. And I did this! For you, my dear reader, and for me – I’ve never been there before!
I took the train at 6 am in the morning, and I walked out of the central train station in Florence at 7 am. Until 9 am I almost had the city for myself. It was wonderful!
You can visit the famous David Statue (but you need to purchase your skip-the-line-ticket before!), walk up the hill to have a panoramic view of the city, and walk along the famous bridge, The Ponte Vecchio.
Florence is beautiful. So beautiful! I only went there on a day trip. Since I arrived so early in the morning and left with the train at 8 pm at night, I enjoyed this city to the fullest. I don’t have the feeling I missed out on anything.
You will realize quite soon that Florence is more expensive than Bologna. Therefore, I recommend saving your money more for the Bologna trip and eat some delicious pizza here in Florence.
You can get really big pizzas for as little as 5€.
27. Day Trip to Parma (cheese & ham)
Yes, guilty – you have heard of the famous Parma cheese and even more likely, the ham. Head over to Parma for a day trip.
There are organized day trips you can join. Here you visit venues to try the parma cheese, parma ham, and local wine.
28. Unique bar: Le Serre Dei Giardini
Brunch and beer garden away from the city center! This place is so local, they don’t even have any information in English online!
Also, they organize several concerts and different events throughout the year. Check out www.bolognatoday.it to see the list of events, here is their Facebook.
Address: Via Castiglione 134/136, Bologna, Italy
29. Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca (and pass 1000 arches
The longest arches in the world are based in Bologna. There are more than 666 arches in a row. It starts downtown and it takes you all the way up to San Luca, the church overlooking the city of Bologna. On the way up you can see the city, the airport, and the football stadium
Besides all the delicious dishes all around the city, Bologna has a beautiful green side you can visit.
The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca is a picturesque basilica located at a hill slightly outside the city. You can walk from the city center which takes you around 1:15h, but also public transport is accessible there.
The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca is itself a highlight to visit. However, the way up is, in our opinion, even more impressive. You can walk along almost 4 km of a monumental roofed arcade, consisting of 666 arches! Yes, we mentioned this already in the beginning.
The longest arches in the world are based in Bologna.
It is really worth it. However, I’ve to say, it’s a pity you do not have a real panoramic view over Bologna. Yet, it’s still worth it to go up.
Where to stay in Bologna?
Now that you already read about your upcoming activities in Bologna, we need to accommodate you.
We had a look around, here are the different options for solo-travelers, budget travelers, couples, families, and groups of friends.
WE Bologna is the cities only 5 Star Hostel.
It is a student’s residence and hostel, accommodating people of all ages. It is a quality hostel you can enjoy as a friend’s group as well as couples. The hostel also organizes social and cultural events, loved and joined by locals along with travelers.
The hostel is located right behind the main train station „Bologna Centrale“. You are in the city center by walking with only 15 minutes. You can also rent bicycles at the reception desk.
Read our full review of WE Bologna here.
For hotels, we recommend the Grand Hotel Baglioni.
It is super centrally located and comes in a classic boutique style.
In fact, it is a 5 Star Hotel.
You are staying in the very city of Bologna. Some of the rooms come with a gorgeous view of the city and to the leaning towers of Bologna.
A cheap hotel in Bologna city center is the Albergo Garisenda. You can almost touch the leaning towers from the windows. When leaving the building, you are in the very heart of the city.
While the decor is basic, it is super clean, the staff is so lovely and well, the location is simply unbeatable.
For the stylish traveler couple, I love to recommend Art Hotel Commercianti. Have a look at their interior design; beautiful!
The hotel is directly at the San Petronio Basilica, just a 2 minutes walk from the leaning towers.
For apartments, there are several to choose from. I recommend staying downtown, near the best attractions in Bologna, like the leaning towers.
There are also several Airbnb to find. Lots of students rent out their spare room, but also small guest houses and more private accommodations. Head over to Airbnb and have a look. Here you can get a $35 Airbnb discount for your first stay.
Summary: Awesome things to do in Bologna
So, here you have it, a perfect list with cool things to do in Bologna. Your list should be quite long by now. Make sure you tick off all of the highlights you really want to do.
Hostel Packing List
It is time to see what you should pack in your backpack or suitcase. Make sure you always pick a quality hostel, it totally reduces the things you need to pack. Here is our ultimate hostel packing list. It features 23 items you should really throw in your backpack.The most important things to pack are:
- eye mask
- key chain flashlight
- the right backpack, the Nomatic (our review of Nomatic here) or Lowe Alpine Lightflite 45 Pack
- packing cubes
- generic padlock (fitting all locker types)
- quick-dry travel towel
- universal power adapter
- travel-sized toiletries