Bologna: an insiders guide to the city

1 November 2021
Written by The Italy Insider
Insider's Guide

Bologna is a city that has a lot to offer: it’s the capital of the Emilia Romagna region and it’s mostly famous for the architecture. Over 40km of porticoes line the streets connecting the city, However Bologna is also famous for three very important concepts that have given the city its nicknames: La Rossa, referring to its extreme left wing political stance.La Dotta, aka the learned one, referring to the fact that it houses the oldest university in the world (founded in 1088 AD).La Grassa: referring to its food scene. The region of Emilia Romagna is famous for many foods such as parmesan cheese, parma ham, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, ragù, pheasant, bollito and much more.

People of Bologna

What to see

Torre dell’Orologio

La Torre dell’Orologio, also known as Torre Accursi is situated within the Town Hall. It offers a wonderful view over Piazza Maggiore with a backdrop of Le Due Torri. We suggest booking your online ticket here, and with this same ticket you have free access to the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte (City Art Collections).

Le Due Torri

In Piazza di Porta Ravegnan you will find Le Due Torri: the Asinelli and the Garisenda, two medieval towers and symbols of the city. If you thought the leaning tower of Pisa was historical, think again. the Asinelli was built in the twelfth century hence it’s the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world. You can climb the 498 steps up to the top of the tower to admire a beautiful view over the red roofs of Bologna and the surrounding hills. Again, highly recommend you book in advance here.


The Archiginnasio was the first unified seat of the University of Bologna, however within this complex today you find Bologna’s public library. It is highly worth visiting the court with its thirty arches and vaulted ceilings decorated with the coats of arms of past students and professors.

Basilica di Santo Stefano

The Basilica di Santo Stefano, or Sette Chiese as the Bolognese call it, is enclosed in Piazza Santo Stefano surrounded by late Medieval and Renaissance porticoes. It owes its name ‘Sette Chiese’ or seven churches due to the fact that it’s an ancient religious complex consisting of four churches and three chapels.

Bologna city in Italia, Emilia, Architecture, Light, Shadows, Geometry, People, Food

Basilica di San Petronio

This is the largest church in Bologna and the fourth largest in Italy after St. Peters in Rome, the Duomo of Milan and Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The first thing you will notice is its facade made part in brick and part in marble as the constructions remained incomplete. In fact, in the fourteenth century the initial plan was to build the largest church in the world however Pope Pius IV intervened by requesting the construction of the Archiginnasio, which interfered with the project of the Basilica. Inside you will find 22 chapels that contain the works of numerous Italian artists who lived between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Basilica di San Petronio
Basilica di San Petronio
Basilica di San Petronio

What to do

Marvel at the numerous porticoes

The porticoes have become the symbol of Bologna, in fact in July 2021, Unesco declared them a World Heritage Site, as “the porticoes have become an expression and element of Bologna’s urban identity.” They are best seen when the sun starts to rise or set, so that a beautiful shadow play effect covers the pavement.

Walk around the Quadrilatero

One of the areas you mustn’t forget to visit is the Quadrilatero, and most notably Via Clavature. This area, located in the heart of the historic centre of Bologna, is known for its craft, mercantile and commercial tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Here, similar to Via Pescherie Vecchie, you will find many stores including the Mercato di Mezzo, where you can taste and buy the local delicacies.

Try the traditional Dolce Certosino

Bologna is clearly famous for its traditional cuisine, but one thing you mustn’t leave without trying is the Dolce Certosino, o Pan Spaziale. This cake-like desert is usually a festive tradition, similar to the Panettone, and is made with honey, almonds, candied orange and flour. Also known as Pan Speziale, the recipe dates back to the medieval times when it was baked by the pharmacists (or “speziali”). One place well known for this delicacy is l’antica salsamenteria tamburini.

Head Down Via Pescherie Vecchie

Here you will find numerous little stores that sell fresh, homemade pasta (all your varieties from tagliolini, tortellini, ravioli etc.), aged parmesan, cured meats and more.

Porticoes of Bologna
Fresh egg pasta

Take a cooking class with Le Cesarine

As if we haven’t spoken about food already, learning to appreciate the art behind tradition is fundamental, and an excellent opportunity to recreate these wonderful dishes at home. In this digital magazine we focus a lot on Slow Travel and part of this is understanding and communicating with the locals. Le Cesarine, a cultural association of passionate foodies that offer cooking class experiences all around Italy, was actually born in Bologna, so what better way to learn how to make traditional tortellini from scratch than with them? Book your cooking experience here.

Watch the Opera at the Teatro Comunale

A lovely evening can be spent at the Communal Theatre watching one of the Operas they have on show. Check out the calendar here.

Have an aperitivo with MORTADELLA & TIGELLE

Aperitivo’s in Italy are a must, and what better way to kickstart your meal than with a cured meat platter filled with all the traditional bolognese specialties? at Vineria Favalli you can order your Spritz or prosecco with a tagliere made with mortadella, parma ham and tigelle.

Where to eat


Bruno Barbieri’s bistro with a bar and 5 rooms designed in a contemporary style does not exactly breathe tradition from an aesthetic point of view – yet a classic dish of tortellini evokes all the traditional flavours; even if instead of a Lambrusco you try the Old Bo cocktail, with bitter, still pignoletto, honey. The dinner is a seven course tasting menu where you can compose your own journey selecting dishes from the menu but our top tip for you? end your dinner with Coppa Macchiavelli, Barbieri’s signature dessert that has earned him awards and certainly contributed to the Michelin star. WEBSITE

Ristorante Diana

This historical restaurant first opened its doors in 1909 in the heart of the city centre and has, since then, been dishing up traditional Bolognese dishes. One of the things that made this place stand out is the fact that if you order tortellini or pasta, they bring over the large pan and dish it up at your table. Furthermore, it’s one of the few restaurants to maintain the traditional Bolognese recipe in the tagliatelle al ragù and lasagna and serve these up with boiled egg yolk! WEBSITE

Botanica Lab

If you’re looking for a break from the tortellini and the tagliolini al ragù then try Botanica lab, one of the very few vegan restaurants in the city. It’s the perfect option for a lighter lunch, made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. From your Buddha bowls to your roasted yellow tomato salad with smoked aubergine dip. Must try: the Botanica : ginger beer, lemon, ginger and tea virgin cocktail for a tangy, fresh drink to accompany your meal. WEBSITE


“Tradition is not a limit but a springboard”, says Lorenzo Costa, which provides the core pillars of his restaurant. Building upon tradition with innovation and creativity. Order a la carte or embark on a 7 course tasting menu in which the chef Daniele Bendanti evokes his work and travel experiences in the kitchen bringing together tradition with international touches. WEBSITE


Under Via Manzoni’s porticos in the heart of Bologna, I Conoscenti is an elegant yet casual restaurant & bar with an open kitchen. In sight, the Chef Salvatore Amato, from puglia, with a prestigious curriculum having worked alongside Enrico Bartolini and Angelo Sabatelli. Before taking a seat, try one of the signature cocktails at the bar, where each creation is the result of research and technique. At the restaurant, refined dishes that evoke the journey of the Chef from Puglia to Bologna. WEBSITE

A dish at Fourghetti
Interiors at Botanica Lab

Where to sleep

Lo Studio sui Tetti

This is quaint little airbnb located in the Jewish quarter of Bologna, ten minutes walk from Le Due Torri. There are two beds, one on the mezzanine and one on the ground floor placed in front of the window that overlooks Le Due Torri. Waking up with this view is an unforgettable experience itself, but coupled with the extreme comfort of the bed, the well equipped house, the kindness of the hosts and the uniquely decorated apartment: this true gem is somewhere we would highly recommend staying in for a weekend escape to the city. WEBSITE

THE Social hub

Bologna best hotels
The gym at The Social Hub

A new way of hospitality. Designed for a students, it focuses on shared spaces. What do you find besides the bedrooms? Gym, chill-out areas, bicycles designed exclusively for TSH by Dutch VanMoof and access to the flex desks in the co-working space. WEBSITE

Stay up to date. Sign up to our newsletter