• Charlotte Seager

Bologna on a Budget

There's nothing like sitting in a Piazza, letting the sun warm your face after a day of city exploration. Ideally with a wine in hand. Italy is a gorgeous country full of places perfect for this. Rome, Venice, Florence… the list of bucket list destinations goes on. So why choose Bologna? Well, if the fact that it is the birthplace of the delicious Bolognese pasta dish isn't enough for you, just read on to find out why Bologna should be your next city break.

Piazza Nettuno Bologna
Piazza Nettuno, Bologna

Just a few hours outside tourist hotspots Venice and Florence, this lesser known metropolis lies in the Northern Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and boasts an abundance of culture, without the crowds and associated premium costs.

La dotta (the learned), la rossa (the red) and la grassa (the fat) are the nicknames given to this lively city. Using these apt adjectives it's easy to highlight the attractions held here for the weekend wanderer.

The Learned

Bologna has a history steeped in academia, with Europe's oldest university located here. Over 900 years of scholarship has left its mark in the form of some stunning architecture.

The Archiginnasio of Bologna, constructed in the 16th century to house the university, became the city's municipal library in 1838. This remains its principal function, but it is also a landmark attracting the attention of tourists. The rooms, staircases, galleries, and courtyard of the building are adorned with thousands of coats of arms of the students who attended the university here. This exquisite library (located on Piazza Galvani) is a must visit, especially for anyone interested in history, architecture or books! To look inside is free, but there's also an incredible anatomy theatre hall which can be seen for a small fee of 3 Euros.

Archiginnasio of Bologna
The Archiginnasio of Bologna

The city's university quarter is still a centre of learning and is home to contemporary students who bring youth and vibrancy to the area, enabling plenty of bars and cafes to flourish. Perfect for keeping you refreshed on your travels.

The Red

The terracotta and sandstone construction of local buildings account for this one. On walking around the compact medieval centre, you'll see various sun-baked squares awash with different shades of red.

One of the main activities you must engage in when visiting Bologna, is to wander the streets of the old town taking in the fascinating architecture. Each façade has a unique feature that makes it interesting, and the famous arcades are a definite attraction; approximately 25 miles of porticos cover walkways, so even if the heavens open, giving brief relief to the heat of the day, you needn't get wet when out and about. Some of the oldest buildings still have their original timber columns and beams, but many are made of sturdier stone.

The Buildings of Bologna are Beautiful

There are a handful of historic sites that should not be missed when exploring:

  • The landmark that dominates the cityscape; Torre Asinelli (at the end of via Rizzoli). It's actually the tallest leaning tower in Italy, and for breath-taking views, you're able to climb to the top for only five Euros (buy tickets in advance at the Bologna Tourist Office).

  • Basilica of San Petronio, a partially completed centuries-old church in the main square of Piazza Maggiore.

  • Piazza Nettuno contains an attractive fountain of the sea god Neptune.

  • Palazzo del Podesta, where you'll find the whispering walls - a phenomenon allowing people to talk to each other from diagonally opposite when facing the wall.

The Fat

Ahh. Now the real reason you should visit. The food! The world-famous dish of Bolognese, whether you prefer it with spaghetti, tagliatelle or any other type of pasta, is delicious, and as the name suggests, originated in Bologna! Known here as ragu, no trip would be complete without having a plate of this authentic Italian cuisine.

The best places to eat are located in the charming medieval market area of the Quadrilatero, the numerous narrow lanes just off Piazza Maggiore, south of Via Rizzoli.

Bologna is an underrated destination. It has a lower profile than other Italian cities but easily matches them in terms of culture. Its compact size and the smaller quantity of tourists make it the perfect place to visit for a low-cost weekend break.

So. What are you waiting for?

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