Off to... Italy! // ALB's Bologna City Guide
ALB’s City Guides are not your typical tourist itinerary, they are your invitation to travel like ALB.
Bologna is a hidden gem. It is so beautiful and the culture so rich, yet never will you find crows like in Rome or Florence. The city boasts what even Italians admit to be some of the best food in Italy: the Emilia region is known for it. Bologna is also home one of Italy’s most breathtaking piazze, the beloved musician, Lucio Dalla, and the prevailing Ducati motorcycle company. Told ya, the culture is what makes it shine!
“La Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa.” Bologna is the Scholarly: the Università di Bologna is the oldest university in the western world, dating back to 1088; the Fat: the food, need I say more?; the Red: the left-leaning city has been the center of Italian Communism, in addition to the beautiful red hued buildings that line the portico-framed streets.
Although this central Italian city is left off most itineraries, it should not be in yours! The others do not know what they are missing!
Best time to visit: April through June and September through October. Beautiful spring and fall months, when it is neither too hot nor too cold, and not too crowded! The best part about these times of the year is that you can sit outside, in the street or under the portici, and literally kick your feet up.
Transportation: You can walk from one end of the city to another in about twenty minutes. One of the top tricks of the city is the portici; enjoy a lovely walk even in the rain! Unless you plan to travel afar, renting a car is not necessary. Also, Uber is not a thing.
Weather: January is the coldest month, with an average of 41°F (5°C). Although this temperature is not particularly low, winter humidity is high, causing it to feel colder than it actually is; you feel it in your bones! July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 86°F (30°C). November is the most precipitous month of the year.
Know before you go: Tipping is not common in restaurants unless you have a truly out of this world experience. The same goes for taxis, however rounding up to the next Euro is customary.
Language: Italian. With a Bolognese twist.
Currency: Euro (1.14USD) as of Friday, July 7th.
Grand Hotel Magestic già Baglioni // You know that scene in Marie Antonionette in which Kirsten Dunst awakes in her big fluffy bed in the plush Victorian room? That is what you feel like while staying at the Baglioni. As the only five-star hotel in the city, this is where to dwell. A plus: savor the best tortellini in brodo you will ever have at, I Carracci, The Baglioni's restaurant. // Via dell'Indipendenza, 8.
Hotel Corona d’Oro // Steps away from Via Rizzoli and Piazza Maggiore is the charming Hotel Corona D’Oro (Crown of Gold). The architecture in this building — think doric columns and stucco reliefs — ensures a luxury experience in an 18th century setting. Do not worry, the current bells and whistles are not from that time. Roll out of bed and step to the right into Via Oberdan to have breakfast at Caffè Terzi. // Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 12.
Hotel Metropolitan / Met’s Apartments // Ideal for short or long sejours, the Metropolitan’s rooms are modern, spacious, and in an ideal location. The hotel’s Business Executive Suite has a beautiful balcony looking over Bologna. Adversely, if you prefer the accommodation of an ensuite kitchen, the Met’s apartments are tailored for extended stays and are cozy enough to replicate a true living space. // Via dell'Orso, 6 and Via Dè Monari, 3.
I Portici Hotel // A modern, refined abode in the heart of the Medieval city. The location of I Portici is superb — on Via dell’Indipendenza, a central hub of the city (albeit not too noisy) that leads to the center square, Piazza Maggiore. Treat yourself to a meal at the city’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, I Portici, just downstairs. // Via dell'Indipendenza, 69.
Torre Prendiparte // If you would like to delve into the Medieval history of Bologna head-first, stay in the tower’s B&B. While you should not expect to find the amenities of a hotel — large storage areas or a turn-down service — where else can you have a whole tower to yourself? // Piazzetta Prendiparte, 5.
All’Osteria Bottega // Winding through the city and out towards Porta Saragozza, you stumble upon Via Santa Caterina where you will find two restaurants. Continue to the second and enter; or, sit outside if the weather is opportune. ALB has had one of her top five meals here. The food is a sophisticated take on Bolognese cuisine; the ambiance and vibe do not disappoint, either. This is not your average osteria, but be sure to make a reservation. // Via Santa Caterina, 51.
Caffè Terzi // Remain attentive while eyeing Caffè Terzi; it is so small you may miss it. However, inversely proportionate to its size is its quality and charm. This bar — how Italians refer to both coffee shops and, well, bars — is acclaimed for its espressi and paste, pasteries. // Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 10/d.
Caffè Zanarini // Every city has its go-to posh bar. Zanarini is to Bologna what Sant Ambroeus and Cova are to Milano. Sit in Piazza Galvani and people watch during peak hours — all day really — or meet your friends here for a fantastic aperitivo at sundown. // Piazza Galvani, 1.
Drogheria della Rosa // As you stroll up the sidewalk in Via Cartolerie, you hear the Drogheria's owner, Emanuele Addone, schmoozing and dining with his guests. It is all about enjoying yourself with great friends, great food, and quite a few laughs! Be sure to order the tortelli di stracchino e squacquerone con prodotti stagionali dell’orto (tortelli with stracchino and squacquerone with fresh seasonal vegetables). My mouth is watering! Reservation recommended. // Via Cartoleria, 10.
Gelateria Galliera49 // Named the best gelateria in Emilia-Romagna, you cannot leave without stopping by its pickup window. Once you glimpse the daily flavors, you will understand its luster. Try the fior di basilico e agrumi canditi (basil-infused gelato with candied citrus). Just think about it; basil gelato! What could be better? // Via Galliera, 49/b.
Cremeria Funivia // Pairing hand in hand with Galliera49 is the Funivia (the cablecar). This is the original best gelateria in Bologna, and is still home to the city’s favorite flavor, Alice: mascarpone ice cream topping a cone filled with melted hazelnut chocolate (think: Nutella). I need say no more. // Piazza Cavour, 1/d/e & Via Porrettana, 158.
Sale Grosso // Fish in Bologna? An oxymoron, considering that Bologna is inland and that there are so many fantastic places to eat fish both along the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. Sale Grosso, however is an exception. Nestled in a small vicolo in the Zona Universitaria, the university part of the city, is a place where you can enjoy fuchsia risotto with shrimp. Mmm! Reservation recommended. // Vicolo dè Facchini, 4A.
Osteria Al 15 // Speaking of osterie, this is a classic. Small glasses typical of osterie, paper tablecloths, and delicious simple, local food. On the older, opposite side of town, proximate to the court house and the Giardini Margherita are smaller, neighborhoody streets. Follow the sounds of friends enjoying themselves (a great sound you hear all over Italy) and you will find Osteria Al 15. // Via Mirasole, 13.
Tamburini // In addition to tortellini in brodo and tagliatelle al ragù, Bologna is home to tigelle, salumi, and formaggi. You do not need to know exactly what they are; just order them. You will thank me later. Tamburini is this is the best place to sit in the delightful city street and enjoy one of the best apericene (apertif-dinner) you will ever have. // Via Caprarie, 1.
Trattoria Pizzeria Belle Arti // Just down the street from Sale Grosso is this neighborhood restaurant. Boasting a marvelous outdoor space and underground gardens, the entire lengthy menu is delicious. The pizzas are some of the best in the city, as are the gnocchi alla Sorrentina and main courses. Prices are superb, too! // Via delle Belle Arti, 14.
Quanto Basta // In Bologna, you would not expect to eat alla Romana, as you would in Rome. However, dining at Quanto Basta feels like you are in the Città Eterna. The food may even be better than it is in Rome! Order spaghetti alla carbonara or the cacio e pepe! Reservation necessary. // Via del Pratello, 103.
Zazie // Bologna is not just a cuisine of cholesterol enriching foods; the city has its own niche for fresh cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and cous cous salads garnished with fresh mint. Follow the cobblestone road to Zazie, just behind Via dell’Indipendenza or in Via D'Azeglio. They serve delicious and warming soups in the winter — from which you will not feel heavily full — and flavorful light summer salads. // Via Malcontenti, 13 and Via D'Azeglio, 23B.
Zerocinquantuno // Zerocinquantuno, or zero fifty one, 051, is Bologna’s area code and a special numeric combination for all Bolognesi. A few streets behind Tamburini is Via Pescherie Vecchie, the street of the old fish markets. In addition to fish, you will find fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Next to these markets is the Zerocinquantuno monopoly; they have taken over the entire street corner. The concept is similar to that of Tamburini, but the atmosphere is less rustic and the menu less limited. By no means does that mean you will struggle to find something exquisite at Tamburini, but the selection at 051 is different. // Via de' Pignattari, 1/F.
Prime Bologna Centro // The most luxe gym in the city. It is conveniently located centrally to everything, and is the perfect place to get in a sweat. // Via Albiroli, 5.
Vinyasa Yoga Bologna // This new edition to the Bologna wellness scene popped up last year. Boasting frequent vinyasa, yin, and pilates classes, it is a true sanctuary in the middle of one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Oh, and the view! // Strada Maggiore, 24.
Run in the Giardini Margherita // The best part about having such a luscious park right in the middle of the city is that it provides an immediate escape from the metropolitan hub. Home the exclusive private Tennis Club (maybe someone will challenge you to a few sets), walking paths and fresh blooms, stopping here for a walk (or a gelato) is soothing. // Piazza di Porta Santo Stefano.
Andare a Casa di Lucio / Visit the home of Lucio Dalla // There are two protectors of Bologna, San Petronio and Lucio Dalla. The latter being the late beloved musician who was, and still is, the spirit of Bologna. March 4th, his birthday, and the first, the date of his death, are celebrated every year with a jubilant concert in Piazza Maggiore, just behind his home. Often, around that time of year, tours of his home are open to the public. This is one [huge!] incentive to visit Bologna in March! Lucio's energy is still felt everywhere; every evening at six, his music is still played in his home street, Via D’Azeglio. // Via Massimo D'Azeglio, 15.
Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio // This is more than your ordinary library. A beautiful building from the 1600s that houses venerable manuscripts, noble family crests, and an anatomy theatre, a lecture hall with an amphitheatrical layout. Talk about a classroom like you have never seen before! // Monday - Friday, 10A-6P, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays, 10A-7P // Piazza Galvani, 1.
Climb the Torre degli Asinelli // Just like at Milano’s Università Bocconi where students do not walk through the lions — Italians are very superstitious — in Bologna, students who want to graduate should not climb the Torre degli Asinelli. Besides being the city of portici, Bologna is also the city of towers. While 24 of the original 100 still survive, the two most famous are the Asinelli and the Garisenda; they mark the center of the city. Regardless of legends, if you are up for a physical challenge, make your way up to the top of the Asinelli for a view that is hard to find elsewhere. // Monday-Sunday, 9A-7P // Piazza di Porta Ravegnana.
Il Salotto del Jazz // Every June through September in the heart of the university neighborhood, is a nightly live jazz festival hosted by neighboring restaurants. Tables line the street and the atmosphere is alluring. As if being in this ambiance was not enough, in August fresh pasta is made table side! Reserve your spot under the stars through the restaurant Cantina Bentivoglio. // Via Mascarella.
La Basilica di Santo Stefano / Le Sette Chiese // In Piazza Santo Stefano, one of the most beautiful piazze in Italy, there are seven churches. Yes, seven. But you would never know just by looking. Tour the Basilica di Santo Stefano; you will be moved at its glistening history. That is the magic of Italy, after all; imagine who has walked your same steps 500 or 1000 years before you! // Monday - Sunday, 8A-7P // Via Santo Stefano, 24.
La Finestrella di Via Piella / La Piccola Venezia // In the 12th century, Bologna was a city of canals, similar to Venice. Today, in Via Piella is a remnant of what lies below and beyond: a small window through which you can peak at the Reno Canal. // Via Piella.
Le Serre dei Giardini Margherita // In the past few years, innovative spots have infiltrated the Bolognese scene. One of them is Le Serre in the Giardini Margherita. Amongst the green and fresh air of the park, you do not even feel like you are in the city. Immerse yourself in the area’s most innovative sounds, smells, and tastes. Go for an aperitivo or after dinner, especially in the summer when a cool evening breeze is needed! // Via Castiglione, 134.
Museo della Storia di Bologna // Bologna is one of the most significant cities in Italy. Learning about where you are and what precedes — which, in Europe, is so fascinating as the lands have been civilized for so long — is grounding. Follow Bologna’s story and culture, from its Etruscan roots to how it established itself as one of the leading cultural destinations of the world. // Tuesday - Sunday, 10A-7P // Palazzo Pepoli, Via Castiglione, 8.
Museo Ducati // About 15 minutes outside of the city is the home of the world-famous Ducati Motorcycle. Both the factory (beyond cool!) and museum are open to the public, although the special racing section is closed off. They do not want to reveal the secrets of their MotoGP winning Desmosedici. It is worth the trip, even if you are not a moto fan. // Monday, Tuesday, Thursday - Saturday, 9A-6P // Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, 3, 40132 Borgo Panigale.
Terrazza San Petronio // If you plan on visiting Bologna in the near future, then you are in for a treat. La Basilica di San Petronio, named after the Saint protector of Bologna, is currently under restoration. This is more of an opportunity than an inconvenience. Not only are you able to visit the top of the basilica and see one of the most breathtaking views of Bologna (you can see all the way to San Luca!), but you can have a summer aperitivo all the way up there. How fab! // Monday - Sunday, 10A-1P, 3P-6P // Piazza Galvani, 5.
Via delle Pescherie Vecchie // Before or after stopping for a bite at Tamburini or Zerocinquantuno, peruse the fresh markets. Fruit, vegetables, flowers, and fish. Vendors even let you taste the delicacies on the spot to make sure you are satisfied. // Via delle Pescherie Vecchie.
Walk to San Luca - make it a workout // On the way to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca are 666 porticos! This is a road similar to the Walk of Santiago, where the religious have pilgrimed for years. The beauty of having such a majestic structure just outside of town (accessible by foot), is that you can visit whenever. Making your way up is a popular workout site for the athletic; hiking under those steep porticos is not easy. Once you get to the top, it will all have been worthwhile. The air is lighter, different, more clean, and the view and atmosphere are indescribable. The best time to do it is late in the afternoon, just before sunset. // Via di San Luca.
Bologna is such a culturally rich city, that this guide could honestly continue unceasingly. It is the city of ALB's heart. If you are planning on traveling here, do not hesitate to connect; I will blithely share my insight with you.
Please note that ALB has no relationship with any of the brands or locations mentioned in this article. She supports them all personally.