Visiting Bologna in two days? Our itinerary will take you around the most beautiful and unusual stops in this city! Here are the top places to visit in Bologna in 2 days…
Bologna, the vibrant art city of Emilia Romagna, is a popular destination for travelers from around the world.
This fascinating city – nicknamed la Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa – offers so many stimuli for its history, art, architecture, culture and food and wine, all in a warm, jovial, welcoming atmosphere.
Where does this nickname formed from a triad of adjectives come from?
The “Dotta” (erudite) for the presence of the oldest university in the world that dates back as far as the year one thousand, the Alma Mater Studiorum; the “Rossa” (red) for the characteristic color of the medieval roofs and houses; and the “Grassa” (fat) for its gastronomy based essentially on pork and cured meats appreciated far and wide.
Bologna is a treasure trove of history where you can follow the traces of remote civilizations, such as that of ancient Rome. The city is a kaleidoscope of medieval towers, porticoes and churches winding through the elegant city squares.
During your trip, you will have the opportunity to savor local food and wine specialties. Among them, don’t miss Mortadella Bologna PGI, fresh egg pasta, local wines… which we will talk about shortly.
One possible itinerary we suggest, among the things to see in Bologna, is the UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the famous porticos that are a good 38 km long, 53 km, counting those outside the city.
Another special tour is the one that leads to the discovery of the historic canal network. In medieval and Renaissance times, in fact, Bologna was a city of water with an intricate system of canals running through it, dedicated to transporting goods, used to irrigate fields and feed fountains.
Today only a few sections are still visible and can be visited through guided tours.
What to see in Bologna in two days
Visiting Bologna in two days is possible, considering that the historical center alone, which is full of attractions, can be easily explored on foot, by bicycle, by public transport or by hop on hop off buses.
Those who want to come by train can easily reach Bologna from major Italian cities.
To get around quickly during these two days, the Bologna Welcome Card, the tourist card that can be purchased online or at information and welcome points, can come in handy for access to museums, guided tours, events, etc.
That being said, here is your complete and practical guide to what to see in Bologna in two days! 👇
Piazza Maggiore and the Neptune Fountain
Piazza Maggiore is definitely the centerpiece of Bologna, with several squares serving as meeting points.
In this square, you are surrounded by porticoes on three sides, and in the center stands the majestic Neptune Fountain, a 1566 work by Giambologna that depicts the god Neptune surrounded by a host of mythological figures. The palaces overlooking the square also deserve attention, being truly splendid.
- the Palazzo del Podestà with its frescoes
- the Palazzo d’Accursio, now the seat of the City Hall
- the Basilica of San Petroni
- the Palazzo dei Notai
- the Palazzo dei Banchi
Also not to be missed is a visit to the Salaborsa Library, where under the glass flooring you can see the remains of Roman buildings dating back to the 1st century AD.
Leaving Piazza Maggiore, on Via Galliera, you will encounter the Arco di Galliera, what remains of an ancient Roman aqueduct from the 1st century AD. This too is a fascinating “piece of history” to say the least!
Basilica of San Petronio
The majestic Basilica of San Petronio overlooks right on Piazza Maggiore, making the setting even more striking.
The basilica boasts a centuries-old history that began in the 13th century. Inside you can admire great works of art such as the famous 15th-century organ, monumental chapels, and one of the largest sundials in the world drawn by Gian Domenico Cassini in 1655.
Next to the basilica stands the more than 60-meter-high bell tower, from which to enjoy a wonderful view of the city.
The Towers: Asinelli and Garisenda
Worth seeing in Bologna in two days are the two towers of medieval origin that have become the symbol of the city, located in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, near the Basilica of Santo Stefano.
The names Asinelli (the major) and Garisenda (the minor) derive from the families to whom tradition attributes their authorship (1109-1119). The Asinelli tower is famous for being the tallest leaning tower in Italy.
There are also many surviving towers in Bologna, scattered in various parts of the historic center, blending in with other buildings or within other structures.
Some can be found in Piazza San Domenico, others in Via degli Orefici, Via Galliera and Via Ferrucci. Near Via Oberdan there is one clearly visible. In Piazza Nettuno, adjacent to Piazza Maggiore is the Clock Tower. While in the streets of the Quadrilateral surrounding the long Via dell’Indipendenza, several can be seen. Outside the historic center, in Via Saragozza, one of the tallest can be found.
As it turns out, in addition to the “two towers” Asinelli and Garisenda, there are 24 “Superstiti” including the Azzoguidi Tower, Prendiparte Tower, Scappi, Uguzzoni, Oseletti Tower, Guidozagni, Galluzzi Towers.
St. Stephen’s Square
Piazza Santo Stefano is one of the most iconic places in Bologna. In addition to being a gathering place, the square is home to some of the oldest noble buildings in the city.
The most famous and impactful building here is the Basilica Santuario di Santo Stefano, also known as the Basilica delle Sette Chiese, as it is a monumental complex that encloses seven overlapping basilicas from different eras, dating from the Roman era to the 13th century, one of the highest expressions of Bolognese Romanesque architecture.
Among other buildings facing Piazza Santo Stefano, the splendid Palazzo Isolani is another notable building, dating from the 15th century, famous for its Renaissance courtyard and frescoes.
On the opposite side from Palazzo Isolani, the majestic Palazzo Bolognini Amorini Salina is visible with its portico and characteristic decorative ovals running along the facade.
A curiosity: Piazza Santo Stefano (piâza San Stêven) or Piazza delle Sette Chiese does not exist on the maps of Bologna… So it is a good idea to ask the Bolognese where to find it; they surely know something about it since they gave the place its name.
The Quadrilatero is a historic district in the center of Bologna, known for its open-air market, artisan stores, gourmet stores, and specialty food stores.
This area has been the commercial heart of Bologna since the Middle Ages, when the various artisan guilds had their stores here.
The district is divided within a square composed of pedestrian streets that are always busy and full of life: Via Rizzoli, Via dell’Archiginnasio, Via Farini and Via Castiglione.
Near the Quadrilateral you can find the Archiginnasio, built in 1563 and the main seat of the University of Bologna until the 19th century. Today the building houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library, one of the most important in Bologna.
Finestrella of Via Piella
Among the most curious things to see in Bologna in two days is this finestrella… located on Via Piella.
The famous “Finestrella” on the Moline Canal is reached by passing under Porta Govese, an area known as “Little Venice”.
The nickname comes from the fact that between houses and buildings runs a water channel that has survived asphalt.
The spectacle is enjoyed right from the small window that lets you see through from the wall.
Archiginnasio with the library and anatomical theater
The Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio (1562-1563), built in the historic center by Cardinal Borromeo, is one of Bologna’s most representative palaces. Since 1838 it has been home to the Municipal Library.
The Anatomical Theater is a fir-wood hall with a characteristic amphitheater shape, built in 1637 to house anatomical lectures by Bolognese architect Antonio Paolucci known as the Levanti.
The room was decorated with two orders of statues depicting twelve famous physicians at the bottom (Hippocrates, Galen, Fabrizio Bartoletti, Girolamo Sbaraglia, Marcello Malpighi, Carlo Fracassati, Mondino de’ Liuzzi, Bartolomeo da Varignana, Pietro d’Argelata, Costanzo Varolio, Giulio Cesare Aranzio, Gaspare Tagliacozzi) and twenty of the most famous anatomists of the Bolognese Studio at the top.
Museums of Bologna
It may not be quite the ideal two-day tour of Bologna, but there are plenty of opportunities in the city for visits to the city’s museums.
The University Museums are an important testimony to understanding the long academic tradition of Bologna, not coincidentally called the “Dotta” for this centuries-old vocation.
The Sistema Museale di Ateneo (SMA) runs through the streets of the Bologna University area and consists of 14 museums housing collections ranging from history to science, art to archaeology.
The main museums in Bologna include:
- Ustica Memorial Museum: dedicated to the tragedy of the Itavia DC-9 flight that crashed near Ustica in 1980. The exhibit includes pieces from the wreckage of the plane and contemporary artwork exploring themes of loss and memory.
- Palazzo Poggi Museum: Located in the university area, Palazzo Poggi houses the Institute of Science collection, a series of thematic rooms and the Specola Museum.
- Civic Archaeological Museum in the 15th century Palazzo Galvani: contains archaeological artifacts, including a notable Egyptian collection.
- Museo della Storia: an immersion in history with exhibits ranging from Etruscan times to the present day.
- Museo Civico Medievale: houses a rich collection of artwork and artifacts dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The most important museums within the SMA:
- Museum of Anthropology
- Museum of Astronomy
- Museum of Physics
- Museum of Geology and Paleontology
- Museum of Comparative Anatomy
- Museum of Zoology
- Collection of Chemistry
- Museum of Mineralogy “Luigi Bombicci”
- Botanical Garden and Herbarium
Via dell’Indipendenza is one of Bologna’s most important streets, built at the end of the 19th century, connecting Piazza Maggiore to the Central Station.
One of the distinctive elements of Via dell’Indipendenza are its porticoes, a typical architectural feature of Bologna, much appreciated by all for providing shelter in all weather conditions.
One of the most important cultural landmarks along Via dell’Indipendenza is the Arena del Sole Theatre. Founded in 1810 as an open-air theatre, the Arena del Sole today is a permanent theatre hosting a variety of shows, including plays, concerts and dance performances.
Via dell’Indipendenza passes through Piazza VIII Agosto, an important square that hosts an open-air market and various events throughout the year.
Lucio Dalla’s House
In the very central Via d’Azeglio, a stone’s throw from Piazza Maggiore, is the home of the famous singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla, which can be visited with a guided tour.
Those who have seen it have been able to breathe in the spirit that has always characterized and animated the artist appreciated worldwide for his eclectic and multifaceted nature.
Lucio, in love with his Bologna, was a singer-songwriter yes, but also an actor and director, passionate about painting and sculpture, cinema and theater, photography and poetry.
Just a short walk from the central station is Montagnola Park, the oldest park in Bologna (1805), with a long history as a place used for events, shows, games and sports competitions.
The park can be accessed from several entrances, two of which face Piazza XX Settembre and Piazza 8 Agosto.
The park houses sculptures and monuments, including a fountain and a pond, although some may be undergoing maintenance or restoration.
Monumental Complex of San Michele in Bosco
The Monumental Complex of San Michele in Bosco is an impressive architectural complex on a hill overlooking Bologna, with spectacular panoramic views of the city and the plain.
The complex includes the Church of San Michele in Bosco and the adjacent former Olivetan convent, now home to the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute and an outstanding example of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, with frescoes, sculptures and works of art dating back more than four centuries.
The church, dedicated to Archangel Michael, is a masterpiece of the late Italian Renaissance, with Baroque decorations inside. The 42-meter-high bell tower, visible from many parts of the city, dates back to 1521.
It is from the surrounding park, known as San Michele in Bosco Park, that one can see all of Bologna.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of San Luca
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of San Luca, one of the most representative religious symbols of the city, is a place of worship dedicated to the Virgin Mary that is located on the hill of San Luca, which can be reached from the portico of San Luca, which starts from Porta Saragozza in the city center, and is considered the longest in the world.
The history of the shrine dates back to 1100 AD according to some sources, which testify to the existence of a hermitage on this hill where a hermit named Euthymius from Constantinople had settled, who brought with him a cedar table with an image of the Virgin painted in the ancient Byzantine style.
In 1149, the hermitage passed to two sisters, Azzolina and Bice, daughters of Rambertino di Gherardi di Guezo, later joined by other young people devoted to a life of prayer.
The building, circular in plan with short Greek-cross arms, has a single nave and a large drum supporting the majestic dome.
Inside the sanctuary are paintings of the 17th century Bolognese School, works by artists such as Guido Reni, Vincenzo Bigari, Giovanni Viani, Nicola Bertoni and other locals.
Mercato di Mezzo
The Mercato di Mezzo, in the heart of Bologna, is a historic covered market dating back to the Middle Ages, for centuries a center of trade and culinary tradition.
After the Unification of Italy, it became the city’s first covered market. Today it is a landmark, modern space where you can buy or consume typical food and wine products and the finest dishes on the spot, including famous local specialties such as tortellini.
The market is organized on three floors and offers a variety of stalls and stores selling fresh food, including fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, cheese and cold cuts, and ready-to-eat products.
The Mercato di Mezzo also often hosts tasting events and meetings, making it a popular destination for local residents and tourists alike.
Top things to do in Bologna
Bologna offers a lot. The city is young although it has centuries-old traditions, as we have seen. But it may also be because of its “learned” soul if it is identified as one of the most attractive cities for young people who choose to live, study and work here.
But Bologna is also something else. For example, it is underground. And it takes you on a fascinating journey through its hidden history, among the network of canals and archaeological finds, covered rivers and air-raid shelters.
Here’s what you can see in underground Bologna:
- Reno Canal: This is one of Bologna’s oldest canals, which once powered the city’s mills and contributed to its industrial development. Today you can take guided tours along the canal to discover its history and importance to the city.
- Mario’s Baths: This underground structure was once part of the city’s water system. Although not open to the public without a reservation, guided tours offer the opportunity to explore this historic site.
- Sala Borsa excavations: Beneath Bologna’s modern library, the Sala Borsa excavations reveal the foundations of an ancient Roman city. This archaeological site offers a fascinating look at life in Roman Bologna.
- Air raid shelters: During World War II, many air raid shelters were built under the city to protect the population from bombing. Some of these are still accessible and offer a poignant testimony to this period in history.
- Aposa Creek: This ancient stream, now entirely covered, once flowed through the center of Bologna. Although currently closed for restoration, it offers another fascinating example of the city’s underground past.
In Bologna you can also wander among the most interesting streets to discover the characteristic street art in these spots: Via Zamboni 38 (Luis Gutierrez’s mural); Via del Pratello, moreover a young area with lots of clubs, and with many murals signed by well-known artists (Bisser, About Ponny, Alice, Andrea Casciu, Ericailcane, MP5, Psiko, Guerrilla SPAM); two huge works created by Lokiss and Rae Martini, are located at Largo Caduti del Lavoro.
In the suburbs then, several internationally known street art works occupying entire buildings are concentrated. Here you can take a tour between Via San Donato 52, Via Del Lavoro 3 and at number 18.
Finally, there is another important aspect of Bologna, best known for its renowned food and wine tradition: Tortellini, mortadella, the fine wines of the Colli Bolognesi, etc.
Yes, Bologna is also this!
Those who come to these parts leave with pleasant memories of Bologna la “Grassa”, or the “Fat One”, in their hearts for its exquisite food. So much so that one of the most popular tourist activities here are cooking classes with the historic “sfogline”.
The “sfogline” are the women who have been making fresh pasta by hand for generations in Bologna and throughout Emilia-Romagna. With an immersion in this tradition, you learn how to make egg pasta, tagliatelle, tortellini and other typical Bolognese dishes.
Emilia-Romagna is also famous for its wines, including Lambrusco and Pignoletto. Participating in a wine tour takes you inside some of the area’s best wineries to meet local wine producers and taste a variety of wines accompanied by delicious local appetizers.
City markets such as the Mercato delle Erbe and Mercato di Mezzo are also routes taken by storm by those looking for fresh local produce or even good street food to sample.
Bologna food and wine
And speaking of food, don’t leave Bologna if you haven’t tasted some of the best local specialties:
- ragù bolognese
- green lasagna
- cotoletta alla bolognese, also known as Cotoletta Petroniana in honor of San Petronio, the patron saint of Bologna.
- the boards of typical cold cuts and cheeses. the stuffed tigelle
Now that you know what to do in Bologna in 2 days, we just have to wish you a good trip to Emilia Romagna! And remember that, with Italia Delight, you can book food and wine experiences and trips, even personalized ones.
Cover photo: bianca-ackermann-unsplash
Featured photo: cristiano-pinto-unsplash