A complete itinerary for one day in Bologna, the food capital of Italy (+ a map with all attractions and where to eat the best pasta and gelato).
Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It’s a medieval city, famous not only for its university and rich history but as well as for its unique food. In fact, Bologna is the food capital of Italy.
The city is known by a few nicknames – La Grassa, La Dotta and La Rossa. La Grassa (the fat one in Italian) refers to its rich food legacy (pasta Bolognese originated here). La Dotta (the wise one) is related to the fact that the city is home to the oldest university in Europe. And La Rossa (the red one) is connected to the colour of the city’s medieval terracotta buildings.
Located on the road between Florence and Venice, Bologna is often neglected in favour of its famous neighbours. This is such a pity, as the city is home to some spectacular sights! Not to mention the fact, that this is one of the best food destinations in Italy. Through this Bologna itinerary, I’ll show you why this charming city has to be on your list.
One day in Bologna itinerary
This day trip itinerary for one day in Bologna is ideal for all planning to spend 24 hours in the city or just have a layover between flights or trains. The itinerary covers the most popular attractions, including the best places to eat pasta Bolognese and gelato.
At the end of the blog post, you’ll find a map of the itinerary (with all attractions and restaurants’ websites).
Already have a hotel booked? Then check your hotel’s location and make sure it’s in a good area (see my guide to where to stay in Bologna).
One day in Bologna (perfect itinerary)
- Start the day with a coffee and croissant
- Climb the Two Towers of Bologna
- See the Seven Churches of Basilica of Santo Stefano
- Eat some Italian pasta
- Admire the Fountain of Neptune
- Visit the Municipal Palace
- See the unfinished Basilica of San Petronio
- Visit the oldest university in Europe
- Try the best gelato in Bologna
Try the pistachio croissants
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start your one day in Bologna with breakfast at Forno Brisa or Naama Cafè. Forno Brisa offers authentic Italian croissants, pizza and focaccia bread. Perfect for a quick coffee and a pastry.
In Naama Cafè, you’ll find a great selection of coffee and tea, as well as delicious croissants, cakes and salty specialities. Don’t miss to try the pistachio croissant.
Climb the Two Towers of Bologna
09:30 AM – 10:30 AM
There is no need to go to Pisa to see a leaning tower. The capital of Emilia-Romagna has two! The Two Towers (Le Due Torri) are the traditional symbol of Bologna. They were constructed between 1109 and 1119, which makes them one of the oldest city attractions
In the 12th and 13th centuries, almost 200 towers decorated the city’s skyline. During that time, it was a matter of prestige and wealth for the noble families to show that they can afford to build them.
In the following centuries, most of the towers were demolished or crumbled due to neglect. Nowadays, only about 20 of them are left intact. The highest ones are the Asinelli Tower (Torre degli Asinelli) and Garisenda Tower.
Standing at 97.2 meters high, the Asinelli Tower is the taller one. In fact, this is the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world. Garisenda Tower is only 47m tall and more tilted in comparison to the first.
It’s possible to climb the leaning medieval tower of Asinelli, although it’s a bit of a challenge. There are 498 steps to the top and the stairs can be quite steep at certain points. However, the view is all worth it. You’ll get incredible views of Bologna, including Piazza Maggiore and the Garisenda Tower.
To climb the tower it’s mandatory to book tickets in advance. Tickets are timed entry and only 20 people are allowed per time slot. You can also buy your tickets in advance from the Bologna Tourist Office on Piazza Maggiore.
See the Seven Churches of Basilica of Santo Stefano
10:30 AM – 11:30 AM
Basilica di Santo Stefano is one of the most unusual religious sites in Bologna. It is built in 430 AD on the site of a pagan temple. In fact, the basilica is a complex of 7 separate churches, connected by courtyards and cloisters.
It’s free to visit the basilica, but a donation is welcome.
Eat some Italian pasta
11:30 AM – 01:30 PM
Stop for an early lunch at Sfoglia Rina or Ragù.
Sfoglia Rina serves one of the best pasta in Bologna. And I’d recommend going early, at the opening time at 11:30 AM. When I arrived at that time, it was almost empty. Half an hour later, the queue was stretching outside the restaurant.
Don’t miss to try the tortellini and tagliatelle al Ragu (you probably know it under the name of pasta Bolognese).
For a quicker lunch, visit Ragù. They offer delicious takeaway pasta.
Admire the Fountain of Neptune
01:30 PM – 01:45 PM
Fontana di Nettuno is an impressive fountain, located next to the city’s main square, Piazza Maggiore. This 16th-century fountain features a massive sculpture of the sea god, Neptune.
Don’t miss to take a look at his trident. It inspired the famous logo of the Bologna luxury car company, Maserati. Below Neptune, you can see mermaids with water flowing from their breasts.
Visit the Municipal Palace
01:45 PM – 02:45 PM
Next to the Fountain of Neptune, you’ll find the Municipal Palace (Palazzo d’Accursio). Palazzo d’Accursio is a complex of three palaces, with the oldest one dating back to the 12th century.
Initially, the palace was built to serve as a townhouse of the jurist Accursio. In 1425, the Papal Legate used the palace as a residence (at that time the clock tower was added).
Today, the Palazzo D’Accursio houses the municipal government, the Municipal Art Collections and the city’s library.
You can visit free of charge several rooms – Sala d’Ercole, Sala del Consiglio Comunale, Sala Farnese, Cappella Farnese, Sala Rossa and Sala Urbana. Cappella Farnese was the place where Pope Clement VII crowned Charles V to Holy Roman Emperor in 1530.
There are also some excellent views over the Piazza Maggiore.
Yet, to visit the Municipal Art Collections (located on the top floor) you have to pay a fee. The exhibits feature artworks from the 1200s to the 1900s.
Don’t miss to take a look at the impressive staircase that leads to the first floor. It was designed by Bramante in such a way that the horse-drawn carriages could reach the first floor.
See the unfinished Basilica of San Petronio
03:00 PM – 03:30 PM
Basilica di San Petronio dominates the city’s main square, Piazza Maggiore. In fact, it is one of the largest churches in Europe. The basilica is dedicated to Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna.
When the construction started at the end of the 14th century, the church was planned to be even larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As you can imagine, the pope couldn’t accept such a thing. In the 16th century, he managed to stop the construction of this megalomaniac dream. He did it by ordering the building of the Archiginnasio on the part of the land intended for the church.
After more than 5 centuries, the Basilica of San Petronio is still unfinished. You can clearly see this while looking at its brick and marble façade. Yet, don’t let this discourage you from stepping inside. The interior is completely finished and features 22 chapels, filled with priceless art.
You’ll also find Cassini’s Meridian Line, the longest indoor meridian line in the world (almost 67 metres long).
Visit the oldest university in Europe
03:30 PM – 04:30 PM
The Archiginnasio once was the main building of the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, it’s the oldest university in Europe.
For a small fee of €3, you can visit two of its most important halls – Anatomical Theatre and the Library. The Anatomical Theatre is incredibly beautiful, entirely decorated with wooden carvings. At its centre, you’ll see a marble table, where students were taught anatomy using a real body.
Another spectacular feature is the collection of heraldry. Just cast your eyes on the ceiling and you’ll see it. Coats of arms of different families decorate the whole courtyard and some parts of the corridors. Alongside the coat of arms, you’ll find the country and the name of the student.
Gelato at Cremeria Cavour
Your one day in Bologna is not complete without trying the best gelato in town. And you’ll find it at Cremeria Cavour. They offer tons of flavours, all fresh and made of quality ingredients.
Finish the day with dinner at Trattoria del Tempo Buono or La Montanara.
Trattoria del Tempo Buono is a small restaurant with a great ambience and an awesome wine list. Their menu features traditional Italian specialities with homemade pasta and bread.
La Montanara is a lovely trattoria, serving local specialities.
More ideas for your one day in Bologna
Visit the Bologna Cathedral
Although the Basilica of San Petronio is the largest church in Bologna, it is not the city’s cathedral. The Bologna Cathedral is Cattedrale di San Pietro.
While it may look rather unimpressive from the street, wait till you step inside! The interior is stunningly beautiful, featuring towering arches, marble and exquisite frescoes.
Church of Santa Maria della Vita
Church of Santa Maria della Vita is another religious gem. Its golden interior is decorated with beautiful artwork and elaborate carvings from floor to ceiling. The church houses the famous 15th-century artwork Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca.
Basilica of San Domenico
The Basilica of San Domenico is one of the most beautiful churches in Bologna. While its facade is a great example of a Romanesque-Gothic style, inside you’ll find beautiful Baroque frescos.
One of its treasures is the Arca di San Domenico. It’s a monumental sarcophagus that houses the remains of Saint Dominic. The ark is decorated by wonderful sculptures created by Michelangelo and Nicola Pisano.
Admire the covered walkways of Bologna
The city is famous for its porticoes. These covered walkways date back to the 12th century! They were designed to extend the houses, without encroaching on the streets below.
There are nearly 40 km of porticoes around the city! And they are not only beautiful but also practical – the porticoes will keep you dry even if it rains.
Find Bologna’s hidden canals
The city has a 60 km network of largely covered canals. During the Middle Ages, Savena and Reno Canals were constructed to distribute water within the city.
In the following centuries, most of the canals were covered. Nowadays, there are a few points left where you can still see parts of this massive canal system (see all locations here).
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
If you have more than a day in Bologna, take your time and visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The beautiful church is connected to the city centre by a covered arcade of more than 600 arches. The arcade starts from Porta Saragozza and continues about 4km!
To get to the arcade from the city centre, just take the San Luca Express.
Getting around in Bologna
Find here a map with all the mentioned attractions in this Bologna day trip itinerary.
The best way to explore Bologna is on foot, as most of the attractions are close to each other. Additionally, the porticoes make things even easier, providing protection from the rain or the hot sun.
How to get to Bologna
It’s easy to get to Bologna from Florence or Venice, as most of the fast trains stop at the Central train station. Bologna Centrale is just a 15min walk from the city’s main square, Piazza Maggiore.
If you’re planning to travel by train through Italy, book tickets in advance (they are cheaper if you buy earlier). Check timetables and book train tickets online at Trenitalia official website.
The historical centre of Bologna is a limited traffic access zone (LTZ). This means that the movement of motor vehicles is restricted. Thus, if you’re arriving by car, it’s best to park outside the LTZ zone (see a list of car parks here).
The shuttle service runs every 7 minutes every day of the year between the airport and the train station (from 5:40 AM to 00:00 AM). You can buy tickets online or from the vending machines at the airport.
How many days in Bologna
Is one day enough in Bologna?
1 day in Bologna is more than enough to see its most popular sights, including the Two Towers, Piazza Maggiore and Archiginnasio. In fact, Bologna is a great day trip destination from Florence, Milan or Venice.
Yet, if you’re a foodie, I’d recommend staying at least overnight. With its famous pasta and excellent gelato, Bologna is heaven for every food lover.
Best time to visit Bologna
The best time to visit Bologna is the months of April, May, June, September and October. If possible avoid the summer months of July and August. The weather is very hot and humid during this period. Plus, a lot of stores or restaurants are shut down.
Before booking your trip (especially in the autumn), take a look at the hotel prices. There are a few big trade events (like Cersaie Fiera or Trade Fair week) when the prices of accommodation skyrocket.