What to see in Bologna

While preserving the appearance of an ancient, medieval town, this city is also one of the most modern and advanced in Italy, becoming a symbol of cultural integration and quality of services. In short, Bologna is one of Italy’s most beautiful city.

Piazza Maggiore a Bologna

First, if you are in Bologna on Friday and Saturday check out the Montagnola market. Just a stone’s throw from the station, in the Parco della Montagnola, a weekly vintage market where to have excellent deals and, depending on your negotiation skills, competitive prices! Start from there: it is characteristic, crowded and Bolognese.

 

If your day in Bologna happens neither Friday nor Saturday, then start your walk towards the centre starting from Via Indipendenza, Bologna’s main shopping street. Slightly uphill, Via Indipendenza connects the station directly to the wonderful Piazza Maggiore.

 

Take your time, stop to look around the shops under the famous porticos, one of Bologna’s landmarks. You will pass by the theatre Arena del Sole, with its statues on the roof, under the shadow of the statue of Garibaldi on the horse. You will also pass by the Cathedral of San Pietro, whose’s position: the size of its facade and the proximity to the other side of the road do not allow you to admire in full its architecture, but its beauty is noticeable from the inside! Eventually, you will arrive at the end of Via Indipendenza, directly on Piazza Nettuno, next to Piazza Maggiore. The heart of the city.

Sala Borsa

At the end of Via Indipendenza you will find yourself directly here, in front of the Sala Borsa!

 

Inaugurated in 2001, the Sala Borsa is a public cultural centre that brings together a selection of books that satisfy every reader, and then collections, DVDs and records of all kinds. It is a resource that constantly feeds the students of the University of Bologna and hosts temporary exhibitions.

 

Also worth seeing for its history and architecture, and also because on the ground floor the glass floor allows observing the underground archaeological finds of the Villanova civilization, dating back to the 7th century BC.

The Neptune, called ``the Giant`` (or ``al Zigànt``, in the local dialect)

The Statue of Neptune with its fountain is the dominant landmark of the square, it was promoted by Cardinal Borromeo to improve the image to the adjacent Piazza Maggiore.

 

The statue is majestic, and lives wrapped in a curious legend popular among the locals: the sculptor who made it, Giambologna, was forced by the Church to reduce the “lower parts” of the statue, and so, perhaps for despite, he placed the hand of Neptune in such a position that, from a certain perspective, his finger just seemed … Oh well, look for the black brick from which to look, or ask a Bolognese doc to show you the so-called “Perspective of Shame” and they will tell you where to see this picturesque detail!

 

The angelic figures that make up the fountain under the feet of Neptune complete this elegant and rich work of art. One of the most photographed spots by tourists in Bologna, and a meeting point for the locals.

Piazza Maggiore

One step away from the Fountain of Neptune is finally Piazza Maggiore. A square that shows the signs of the Second World War on the sides of the pedestrian area in the centre of the square. At first glance it may seem wide and dispersive; after a moment you will be surprised of how many landmarks you can look at. Look around.

 

To begin with, to the south of Piazza Maggiore stands the Basilica of San Petronio with its late-Gothic features, with its rigorously unfinished facade, wearing the frescoes of great names like Jacopo della Quercia, and with the proud title of Europe’s sixth largest church. Fun fact! The inside houses the longest sundial in the world in a closed place, and also the oldest functioning organ in Italy.

 

But it is the facade that will draw your attention immediately: because of the lack of funding and, according to some sources, the lack of due ecclesiastical authorizations, the facade saw the end.

 

In the following centuries, there were new proposals aimed at completing the work, but, in reality, the identity of the basilica remained unchanged and consequently unique and special. Completing a work of art did not seem to respect its authenticity, and therefore it was preserved in this way: incomplete, but definitive.

The secret of the Voltone of Palazzo del Podestà

Under Palazzo del Podestà there is another secret of Bologna, less bizarre than the “secret of Neptune” but still particular. Stroll around the square that forms under the vault of Palazzo del Podestà – a veritable crossroads of two streets in the underpass, a stone’s throw from the left side of Neptune. Well, once under the vault you will no doubt notice someone is facing the wall talking and laughing.

 

There is an acoustic effect whereby two interlocutors at opposite corners can speak even in a low voice and hear perfectly. Don’t worry about looking strange: in that corner, everyone becomes a child. That’s okay.

 

Sit down on the steps of the church and observe in front of you the Palazzo del Podestà, built in 1200 and which serves as the base for the terracotta tower, whose bell rung for the Bolognese on special or important occasions. On your left, instead, the statue of San Petronio, the patron saint of the city – and in particular of the square, apparently!

Lunch at Eataly

It’s time to eat, right? You are in a university town, so you why not try to eat in a bookstore? Here’s how: after the echo of the voice under the vault, continue towards Via degli Orefici to find the Coop Ambasciatori Library.

 

In this wonderful library, you can sit, enjoy the intellectual atmosphere and … eat something at Eataly (eataly.it)! It is not the most typical Bolognese trattoria, but for your lunch break, it will be fine because there is something for everyone, including vegetarians. Recommended mainly for a particular experience that perfectly matches the city you are visiting.

 

And since you’re there, just to have a few more options, look also at the culinary offer of Mercato di Mezzo, in case you find something more convincing!

Mercato Antico

After having rested for a moment, around the corner, in Via Drapperie, Via Pescherie Vecchie and in the alleys around, you’ll see the colourful daily market called “del Quadrilatero”, a Bolognese tradition with strong aromas and bright colours. And from the very strong accent!

 

It is an ancient market winding the characteristic narrow streets of the city centre past the ancient pastel-coloured buildings. Fresh fruit, typical food, artisanal products, the walk in this market is a must, and if you are one of those with Instagram always in your hands … these corners will not need any filter!

Torre degli Asinelli

Directly from the market, and only after you have toured it inside out, continue walking towards Via Rizzoli. It is a very busy street, very crowded, with shops and places of interest. For example, at the end of the street, at the intersection with Via Zamboni, there is the famous Torre degli Asinelli.

 

Or rather, the towers are two: the Asinelli and the Garisenda towers – the latter particularly on a slope and with an overhang of over 3 meters, but you will climb the former one!

 

The tradition “forbids” students to climb the Torre degli Asinelli before they graduate: doing so before this academic goal seems to lead to a bad career, and it’s best to do only once graduated. If you are not a student or don’t believe popular traditions, climb up to discover the incredible view of the city from the top. However the choice is yours: you would be on the highest leaning tower in Italy, built for the military, with 500 steps and almost 100 meters high.

 

Fun fact! between June and September 1791, physicist Giovanni Battista Guglielmini dropped sixteen balls, showing that the line drawn from the starting point of the balls was not perpendicular to the ground, thus contributing to the understanding of the Earth’s rotation.

Piazza Santo Stefano

When you have finished taking pictures from the top of the tower, return ”with both feet on the ground” and head towards Piazza della Mercanzia. Then continue towards Piazza Santo Stefano, where you can walk on the elegant pebble pavement, characteristic of this square. The atmosphere of the square is always quiet, relatively calm, in the afternoon cheered by some street guitarists.

 

Now, looking at the church you will have on your right the typical merchant palaces, with the unique windows that make them recognizable, and also a palace famous for its frieze with terracotta heads. And obviously the church itself, or better, the Seven Churches. The seven churches have disappeared, but originally the buildings and works led to having seven small churches attached.

 

The sightseeing will end at the Basilica of Santo Stefano, an atmospheric labyrinth of interlocking ecclesiastical structures, whose architecture spans centuries of Bolognese history and incorporates Romanesque, Lombard and even ancient Roman elements.

Bologna's own Little Venice

Walking through the streets of Bologna, you might accidentally find yourself in Venice. Have you already heard this story? It is a secret, but it is not a legend: take a walk to Via Piella passing through all the secondary streets, such as Via Oberdan and Via Marsala, and once you have passed Porta Govese have a good look under the portico.

 

A small window, a square hole in the wall will give you a view on a parallel world, a small Venice, a river under the neighbouring buildings. This one Bologna’s secrets, guarded with jealousy and cherished by those who get to see it while in town. They call it Bologna’s Little Venice.

Guided tours

The Guide Association Succede Solo a Bologna (succedesoloabologna.it) carries out a precious task for the city by offering free guided group tours (with a final, spontaneous offer and only if you are satisfied!)

 

There are several tours, based on different criteria and length. We suggested: Walking with Dante (an hour and a half), an interesting opportunity to learn about hidden and particular details guided by local people passionate about their city.

Where to stay

Fortunately, there is no shortage of nice places, but the 051B&B Room & Breakfast is different, it is exciting. Not only for the unsurpassed position under the historic two towers of Bologna but for the signature that Alessandro, Jessica and their staff put on the hospitality of their guests.

 

Why not combine Bologna with Ravenna for a superb Italian twin-centre holiday?

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