Bologna isn’t always the first place people think of when they visit Italy; after all, most people go to Rome and Venice. Still, if you find yourself in Italy, consider a visit to Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Even though I had reservations at first, I’ve grown to adore this city for all it has to offer. From its vibrant student life, hippy social scene, rich history and culture, delicious cuisine, and exciting nightlife, Bologna is an Italian must-visit. 

Based on my many brief visits and lengthier two-month stay, Bologna offers something for everyone, whether you’re seeking a culinary experience, a cultural immersion, or a romantic retreat. To have a fantastic experience, you must understand how to maximize your trip to the city. Here are a few helpful tips for first-time travelers to Bologna to make the most of your visit.

Getting Around Bologna

Bologna Streets during sunset
Photo credit: Ollie Tulett

First things first, let’s talk about navigating this treasure of a city. Bologna is made for walking, with its narrow cobblestone streets inviting you to take a stroll. Forget about heels; this is a place where comfy shoes reign supreme. For those moments when your feet demand a break, hop on a Motorino (motor scooter)—Bologna’s favorite mode of transportation and arguably the coolest way to explore the city.

Feeling a little more traditional? No problem. Bologna’s well-connected public transport system will get you where you need to go, and the buses come with an unexpected bonus—great people-watching opportunities. Observing the locals effortlessly juggle their shopping bags, espresso cups, and animated conversations is a spectator sport in itself.

Sleeping In Style

Choosing suitable accommodations can make or break your travel experience. Bologna has various options, from charming boutique hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts. For a truly immersive experience, consider staying in a historical residence—a palazzo with a modern makeover. Wake up surrounded by frescoed ceilings and antique furniture, and you’ll feel like royalty planning your day’s conquests. 

If you’re more of a social butterfly, Bologna’s hostels are different from your typical budget accommodations. Expect quirky decor, communal spaces bursting with character, and a chance to make friends from every corner of the globe. 

Unleashing Your Inner Foodie

traditional Bolognaise pasta - tortellini with beef ragu
Photo credit: Kristijan Arsov

Bologna’s culinary scene is a spectacle, and the city proudly wears the title of “La Grassa” (The Fat One). While in Bologna, stop by the Quadrilatero, the city’s culinary holy grail. Explore the maze of backstreets lined with delis, bakeries, and pasta shops that have served the community for generations.

Of course, you can’t visit Bologna without indulging in its signature dish—tagliatelle al ragù, known to the uninitiated as Bolognese sauce. Dive into a plate of this divine concoction, and you’ll understand why debates about the perfect ragù can cause friendships to crumble and alliances to form. However, the adventure doesn’t end there. Explore the Mercato delle Erbe, where vendors peddle fresh produce, local cheeses, and artisanal goods.