Bologna is the capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna province and has a solid reputation for being the country’s gastronomic capital. The city also boasts an incredible amount of world-class museums, historic buildings, famed porticoes, and a thriving local culinary scene.
All of these make it an appealing stop when visiting Italy. Its proximity and accessibility to other major Italian cities such as Venice, Milan, and Florence make it a popular day trip destination.
In spite of its size, Bologna is fairly easy to explore even if you only have one day in the city. Additionally, most top attractions in the city are within walking distance of each other, which means you can see and explore a lot despite your limited time.
Local Bus & By Foot or Car Rental?
It does depends on your hotel location in Bologna. Most of the sightseeings in Bologna are located in close range and can be easily done by foot. If you hotel is located a bit outside the city, the local transportation is easy and cheap to be used.
For visiting outside the city like a day trip to the beach to Rimini or even Florence we do recommend to rent a car.
The following are the top things to do when on a day trip to Bologna. (Pro tip: To save time and effort during your trip, look for a luggage storage locker in the city and temporarily store your large bags and other items there.)
With a full day of exploring ahead of you, it’s best to fuel up and start your day by having something to eat. If you have spent some time in Italy, chances are you’ve already picked up the Italian way of breakfast, which is mostly just coffee with bread or pastry.
Find a café where you can get your cup of joe and a specialty bread with butter to get you going. Once you’re done with your breakfast, head over to your first stop of the day – the Piazza Maggiore.
There is no better way to get introduced to the city than exploring its very heart, which is the Piazza Maggiore. This piazza is Bologna’s most popular square and has been the social and political center of the city since the 13th century.
The square is home to some of the most historic landmarks and buildings in the city, such as the Fountain of Neptune, Palazzo dei Banchi, and the Palazzo del Podestà. One spot you should definitely check out and stop for while here is the Basilica di San Petronio.
Situated within the square, this Gothic-style basilica is the most important church in the city as well as one of the largest basilicas in the world. The massive building overlooks the entire public square and is characterized by its unfinished façade; upon entering the church, you can some small but impressive sculptures.
Entrance to the basilica is completely free but make sure that you are wearing proper attire as they impose a strict dress code. Upon exiting the basilica, turn left toward the back of the structure and look for a makeshift elevator that will take you up a terrace, where you can get an incredible bird’s eye view of Bologna.
After your trip to the basilica, walk toward the Pavaglione portico for a couple of minutes until you reach the Archiginnasio di Bologna, which once served as the official seat of the University of Bologna and is currently the seat of the Archiginnasio Municipal Library.
Apart from its function as a key library in the city, the building has also become one of Bologna’s most popular tourist spots. The highlight is definitely the Teatro Anatomico, which is home to the incredible Cattedra degli Spellati.
Once you’re done exploring the Archiginnasio, you’re probably already ready to have lunch. While there are literally hundreds of dining options in Bologna, we recommend that you head over to the Quadrilatero, where you will find some of the city’s best restaurants and cafés serving authentic Italian fare. Situated east of the Piazza Maggiore, this area is also filled with gourmet delis and market vendors selling fresh produce and local delicacies.
After you are done eating lunch, you are probably feeling and would like to burn some of the food you just ate. Why not hit two birds with one stone by checking out the city’s famous leaning towers – the Le Due Torri (“two towers” in English).
Widely regarded as the symbol of Bologna, the Le Due Torri is comprised of two individual buildings, namely the taller Torre Asinelli and the smaller Torre Garisenda.
Upon your arrival, climb up 498 steps until you reach the top of Torre Asinelli, where your efforts will be rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of Bologna.
Once you descend from the tower, head over to Piazza Santo Stefano and make your way to the final stop for your sightseeing across the city – the Basilica di Santo Stefano detta Cîsa ed San Stêven. Also known locally as Sette Chiese (“seven churches” in English), the area is actually a complex made up of multiple religious churches overlooking the Santo Stefano square.
The complex has remained largely unchanged over the years and is said to represent the evolution of Bologna throughout history. Due to the size of the complex, you may want to consider downloading this map of the area so you can go on a self-guided tour.
By the time you finish exploring the Sette Chiese, the sun will have set and your day of exploration will come to an end. Head back to the Quadrilatero district and do as the Bolognese do – have an aperitivo, which can be described as the “happy hour” for Italians.
During this time of the evening, the Quadrilatero truly comes to life and some of the city’s best spots can be found in the area. Perhaps the most renowned place to go to for aperitivo is Tamburini, a Bolognese institution that also that sells various local delicacies such as wine, cheese, and cured meat.
After a few drinks, the last thing to do to end your day on a high note is to grab a hearty and delicious dinner. One of the most popular restaurants right in the historic city center, and one that we highly recommend, is Trattoria Da Me.