One day is not nearly enough time to taste and enjoy Bologna.
However, on my recent trip to Italy, that’s exactly what my friend Trillium and I did. We hopped on a morning train from Milan and spent the day in Bologna. It had been years since I was there last. We had wanted to do this together the entire time I was living in Milan, and we never carved out the time for it. (Kicking myself…)
It was a delicious- inspiring- made us never want to leave- kind of day, and SO easy from Milan.
I am not fond of flitting in and out of a place, so I recommend spending more time there if you can. You could seriously spend a month there and not be able to fully immerse yourself into the culinary & historical importance of this fabulously preserved city. However, if you only have 1 day, it will be the most delicious day of your life and I urge you to go for it!
First things first. There are a few things you should know before visiting Bologna.
1 | It’s entirely acceptable to plan your trip completely around food. In fact, the locals will probably kiss you if you tell them this.
2 | This city has 3 nicknames and if you plan your days just around these 3 themes, your time will be spectacular.
- La Grassa. (The Fat One) Bologna has a well-earned reputation for being the center of all things delicious in Emilia-Romagna. (& Italy)
- La Rossa. (The Red One) Bologna’s signature color is red, and when you see her from above, you immediately understand. Red roofs as far as you can see.
- La Dotta. (The Learned One) Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university which began in 1088. In addition to the culinary influences, this rich history of learning & education is one of the things that makes Bologna have such a great and unique vibe.
What to Eat.
One of Bologna’s nicknames is the fat one, “La Grassa.” For this reason alone, you should visit- don’t you think? For hundreds of years Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna, has been considered the culinary heartbeat of Italy. Really amazing if you think about all the different wonderful regional specialties from all over the boot of Italy.
When you visit- you must try these things:
- Tagliatelle al Ragù– Many would say this is the definitive dish of Bologna. (definitely NOT spaghetti Bolognese)
- Tortellini in brodo– Small stuffed pasta filled with meat & cooked in broth- a classic.
- Tortelloni alla ricotta– Tortelloni are larger, and often stuffed with ricotta and sometimes spinach. Served with a simple tomato or butter sauce.
- Tortelli alla Zucca– my favorite, this squash filled pasta is seasonal and often served with a simple butter and sage sauce.
- Lasagne Bolognese No one makes lasagna like the Bolognese. Nothing like the lasagna I grew up on in the US, no ricotta in sight!
- Gramigna alla Salsiccia– A new-to-me dish, and so delicious! Comfort food at its best. (pictured on the far right of the main image)
- Mortadella– A delicacy in Bologna, this famous cured meat is nothing at all like American Bologna.
- Tigelle– a local bread served with cold cuts- described as a “lovechild between an English muffin and a pancake” by The Plate. Love it!
Where to eat.
(based on my friend Sarah’s favorites & recommendations from other friends)
I’m no Bologna expert, but always follow these guidelines when traveling. Simple is best. Look for the classic dishes the town/region is known for (many of Bologna’s are listed above) when you look at their menu. Reservations are always a good idea.
Osteria La Traviata via Urbana, 5
We had lunch here, and loved this place. The atmosphere is really nice- bright yet cozy, the staff were super friendly and helpful. The menu is not huge, but had enough things that sounded good we couldn’t decide! We were thrilled when we told the owner our dilemma and she offered to make us a sampler plate with 3 small portions of pasta. Could anything be any better? She’s my new BFF. I would return here in a heartbeat. Although I really want to return and try all of these places below too…
Ditta Tamburini Via Caprarie, 1
Trattoria Biassanot Via Piella, 16/A
Trattoria Anna Maria Via delle Belle Arti, 17/A
Drogheria Della Rosa via Cartoleria, 10
Enoteca Storica Faccioli Via Altabella, 15A
Where to shop & wander.
Bologna has a huge concentration of food shops in the city center. There’s most likely other shopping that goes on here, but since our focus is always food– I can recommend setting your eyes on some of these shops for some of the most beautiful and delicious things in the world.
Don’t miss the Quadrilatero, an area in the center of Bologna where the craft guilds of the town were headquartered. Still to this day, many food, craft & artisan shops are there. Shop for fresh pasta, cheeses, salumi, chocolates, knives & kitchen supplies.
La Baita Formaggi Via Pescherie Vecchie, 3/A
Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo Via Drapperie, 12/b
Salumeria Simoni Via Drapperie 5/2a
Paolo Atti & Figli Via Caprarie 7
La Sfogline (Pasta Fresca) Via Belvedere 7
La Salumeria Via Oberdan 16
Ceccarelli Via Pescherie Vecchie, 8
Drogheria Gilberto Via Drapperie 5 / Via Pescheria 18
Mercato della Terra Via Azzo Gardino, 65
Mercato di Mezzo Via Clavature, 12
Mercato delle Erbe Via Ugo Bassi, 25
OK, I know the whole reason I went to Bologna was to eat and ogle all the beautiful food. But there are many other things to see & do in Bologna- here are a few things we really loved and pretty much thanked our lucky stars that we made time for.
Where to wander. (non-food related)
The city center is super easy to navigate and dotted with medieval towers and long arcaded porticos, perfect for staying dry during the drizzly winters that Northern Italy is famous for, and for walking off all that tortelli…
Don’t miss these things:
Basilica di San Petronio. The construction for this Gothic Cathedral began in 1390, and it is dedicated to Bologna’s Patron Saint, Saint Petronius.
It looks all soft and innocent, doesn’t it? Here’s a little story for you- Imagine this…
You wander around inside, admiring the arches, frescoes, candles and streams of light beaming into the sanctuary. Once you reach the front of the church, you see a sign to go to the view at the top.
You and your friend look at each other and shrug and say “When in Bologna!” And ask how to get there. A nice enough looking friend of the church leads you out a tiny slice of a door not wide enough for ladies who love to #traveltoeat.
Looking around, you see people with clipboards and assume you are not in the right spot. After asking someone who looks official how to get to the top, you are handed a clipboard and asked to sign a waiver before entering the crazy-sketchy-looking construction elevator. You take a deep breath, and hold your friend’s hand as you lurch to the top.
When you step out onto the rooftop your breath is taken away by the sight of green hills and red roofs as far as you can see. You stand there for a few minutes before you start snapping photos like a crazy lady.
The trip down wasn’t as freaky as the trip up, thank God!
Slightly frightening, TOTALLY worth it.
The Archiginnasio of Bologna.
(Archiginnasio of Bologna Piazza Galvani, 1)
The University of Bologna began in 1088 and currently has 4 additional campuses in other nearby cities- and 93 libraries! A true highlight of our time in Bologna included exploring the Archiginnasio of Bologna, at one time the main building of the University.
For 3 euro, you get entrance to the Anatomical Theater, Stabat Mater Lecture hall, and a peek inside the library. Just walking the grand staircases and halls is so inspirational- they are lined with arches and frescoes, and thousands of coats of arms– representing the names & hometowns of the student leaders of campus organizations.
The Anatomical Theater was used for anatomy lectures. It is an amazing work of art. Damaged in 1944 during the war, it has been returned to its original splendor by using original materials found in the bombed rubble. The room is covered in spruce wood carvings. Of special interest is the ceiling, with the God of Medicine- Apollo floating above, and the “gli spellati” (the skinless men) at the front of the room, flanking the seat of the teacher.
Make sure to not miss the Stabat Mater Lecture hall, included in your entrance ticket. It is filled with frescoes, books & more coats of arms. You can peek through a gate into the parts of the library that are not open to the public.
If you’re like me, you swoon (I hate that word, but honestly it pairs with this building SO well!) at the sight of a beautiful library or room full of books. This is one to add to your list! I couldn’t resist taking photos of the Physics section for my guy, the Physicist. I’ll definitely be bringing him back here.
More Delicious Bologna Resources:
It would be a sin to come to Bologna and not eat well. Just like anywhere, it probably can be done, but a little prep work will help make sure you eat well while visiting. Don’t forget your stretchy pants- La Grassa is not the place to be dieting!
- Love these posts from Sarah: 10 things to know about eating in Bologna & her favorite places to eat in Bologna..
- Coral from Curious Appetite is spending a month in Bologna right now– I think she’d understand if we were all super jealous. You can follow her food adventures in Bologna along with me- over here, on Instagram. 😉
- And, don’t forget you can revisit my interview with Sarah about Bologna (from Italy Project 365) for our One Perfect Day series.
The only regret I have is that my day was not 72 hours longer and that I couldn’t add 12 meals to the time we had there! Bologna, I’ll be back…
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