Discover Bologna: Italy’s Culinary & Cultural Capital

Bologna is where history, cuisine, and architecture merged in Italian harmony.
Written By: Andrea Spallanzani
Reviewed by: Rick Orford
How & Why We Created This Article

This article has been written, reviewed, and fact-checked by Rick and I. We live in Italy and travel throughout the country to help you make the best choices for your trip. We wrote this piece to ensure you have the best trip possible on your next trip to Italy. Portions of this article have been written using assistive AI tools to help with tasks like research, spell-checking, grammar, and translation.

Last Updated March 22, 2024

In this article, you'll learn how:

  • Bologna, Italy, is known for its famous porticos, oldest university, and rich culinary heritage.
  • Must-visit attractions in Bologna include Piazza Maggiore, the Archaeological Museum, and Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
  • Bologna's architectural charm is evident through its historic porticos and leaning towers.

If you’re planning a trip to Bologna, you may have heard of the city’s famous foods, but what exactly is Bologna, Italy known for? How did it attract 2.5 million visitors every year? We’ll show you what to see in Bologna, what it’s known for, and why it’s worth visiting this bustling city!

Bologna is famous for its porticos (corridors), which help the city expand. The world’s oldest university, dating back to 1088, is there. Bologna’s cuisine, food markets, and historic center are famous throughout Italy.

Bologna is a very multicultural city. This article covers every aspect of Bologna, Italy, including where to eat and shop, which attractions are must-sees, and about the oldest university.

Bologna’s Nicknames

people walking near Madrid Palace under blue and white skies

Bologna has a long history and thus has a lot to offer. The oldest university in the world is located in this city, and as the university expanded over time, the city’s architecture changed. Several distinctive structures, including the well-known porticos, were built to ensure that the institution could expand.

Bologna has various nicknames that the locals frequently use because of its distinctive growth and architecture and the well-known cuisine produced in the area. These abbreviations best describe the city. Bologna is commonly known as:

La Rossa (The Red) 

It alludes to socialism or the left-leaning political movement. Bologna served as the focal point of the resistance movement against the Germans and Nazis during the Second World War. La Rossa also references the architectural design of the city. The city has a distinctive appearance thanks to the red roof tiles that cover every rooftop.

La Dotta (The studied or The learned one)

The city received its moniker due to having the world’s oldest university. The Bologna University was the first institution in the modern West to use the term “university,” which comes from the Latin Universitas. Of course, numerous schools and educational institutions existed before Bologna University, but they never adopted the name university. As an illustration, the first Parma school, today called the University of Parma, was constructed in 962 AD. Bologna University was founded over a century earlier.

La Grassa (The Fat and The Food)

Bologna is the regional capital of Emilia-Romagna, a region of Italy known for its cuisine. The region produces some of the world’s most celebrated cuisines, including Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, and balsamic vinegar. It is also home to tortellini, stuffed pasta, and many other foods.

The Well-Known Attractions in Bologna

Bologna is well known for its architecture. The city had to construct additional buildings as the institution expanded to accommodate students. The metropolis’s growth necessitated a new approach to design and municipal planning. The most precise illustration of this growth may be the porticos that connect numerous buildings and public spaces. The old center of Bologna is a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Apart from its architecture, Bologna is also famous for its vast cultural, historical, and artistic heritage. Let’s find out what this city’s famous landmarks are.

Porticos of BolognaDistinctive covered passages that connect buildings and public spaces, add to the city’s charm.
Asinelli TowerThe tallest of Bologna’s iconic towers offers a stunning view of the city and its surroundings.
ArchiginnasioFormerly Bologna University’s main building, now a museum with a historical library and theater.
The Archaeological MuseumFeatures an extensive collection spanning various periods and cultures across nine galleries.
National Gallery BolognaHouses a range of 14th-century artworks and is considered one of Europe’s essential art museums.
Santuario di Madonna di San LucaA church at the end of the world’s largest portico dedicated to the Virgin Mary of St. Luca.
Quadrilatero MarketA historic neighborhood with bustling markets, connecting some of the city’s main shopping areas.

Porticos of Bologna

Bologna Via Indipendenza Portici

Bologna’s porticos were constructed to keep up with the city’s and its university’s expansion. These distinctive passages are now what draw tourists to this city. It lends the city its distinctive personality.

The University of Bologna expanded quickly after its founding in 1088 AD, welcoming many students from across Europe. The municipal council had to alter the city’s plan to keep up with this growth and provide space for the residents and students. The corridors used in Bologna were modeled after the ones commonly utilized at the time as an addition to a house to increase living space. Today, the University of Bologna is chosen by nearly 100,000 students, including international ones, every year. 

Corridors were also used to extend structures and living spaces in many other Italian cities. However, because using these passageways limited access to the streets, several city councils outlawed their use. The city council of Bologna recognized a chance in these passageways. Porticos that extend residential and public spaces are now legally allowed to be built. The construction of the corridors was subject to a rigid set of guidelines. For instance, a minimum height requirement of 7 feet (2.70 meters) had to be used so that a man riding a horse could pass through the hallways.

The Most Notable Porticos

The porticos are still in use today and are lovely to stroll about. In Bologna, the most well-known hallways are;

  • The Porticoes of Piazza Maggiore

The most well-known square in Bologna is Maggiore. It serves as the center of the old town. There are many porticos on each side of the square. It’s remarkable to note how many affluent families have given throughout time to the porticoes. Several families had palaces on this square. You’ll find a slightly different kind of building on either side of the square.

  • The Porticoes of Piazza Santo Stefano

There is a long corridor constructed at various times along this roadway. And other families also construct it. Over time, the arches and corridors’ shapes changed gradually.

  • The Porticoes of Strada Maggiore

The porticoes constructed in the late middle centuries can be seen in some of the best conditions. Even today, some of these porticos are nine meters tall and still made of wood.

  • The Commercial Portico of Via dell’ Indipendenza

Built-in 1888, the portico of Via dell’ Indipendenza is one of the newest passageways. It connects the railroad station and Piazza Maggiore. They constructed this corridor differently, with more of the prevalent neo-Gothic design in mind.

  • The Portico of San Luca

The world’s longest corridor is 2.3 miles long (3.8 kilometers). 3796 meters is the actual measurement. The passageway begins outside the city walls and ends before the Madonna di San Luca Sanctuary. It is among the most well-known porticoes in Bologna and is frequently utilized for various sporting events.

Bologna portico di San Luca

Piazza Maggiore

This is Bologna’s main square, constructed between the 12th and the 15th centuries, where the city’s historic center is located. The size of Piazza Maggiore is 115 meters in length and 60 meters in width. Important ancient governmental and religious structures line the square. On the western side of the Piazza, you may locate the Pallazo d’Accursio, a former municipal hall. On the southeast side of the area lies Bologna’s dome, the Basilica di San Petronio. The former courthouse Pallazo del Podestà is on the northern side. On the east side of the Piazza is the former financial district, Palazzo del Banchi.

Bologna Piazza Maggiore

On the northern side of this area, you’ll find the primary public library and the well-known Neptune Fountain. The Famous Fountain of Neptune is an outstanding illustration of the Mannerism style in the late Renaissance. The Italian elite employed the art form known as Mannerism at the end of the 16th century. The Baroque eventually followed this style.

Basilica di San Petronio

Bologna San Petronio

One of the most well-known structures in Piazza Maggiore is this basilica. Dedicated to Saint Petronius (St. Peter), who served as the fifth-century bishop of Bologna. The façade’s construction began in 1390 but has never been completed. It lends the Basilique its distinctive personality. The Basilica di San Petronio is spacious enough to host ceremonies and can cater to up to 28,000 people

Bologna San Petronio the Altar

Leaning Towers of Bologna

If you thought the Leaning Tower in Pisa was the only one in Italy, you were wrong. Other than the one in Pisa, arguably the most well-known, Italy has more leaning towers. The Leaning Towers of Bologna are another name for the city’s two towers, the Asinelli Tower and Garisenda Tower.

Bologna the two towers

The towers were constructed between 1019 and 1119 AD. The two towers were allegedly built to signify strength and wealth between rival dynasties. Even though this was never confirmed, these families’ names are attached to the towers. The Asinelli tower, which rises 90 meters, is the highest; the Garisenda tower is the leanest (height: 40 meters).

The view from the top of the Torre degli Asinelli Bologna

The towers are currently among the region’s most recognizable landmarks. Although it is possible to climb either tower, we suggest starting with the Asinelli tower. Climbing little steps can be terrifying if you’re afraid of heights. However, you’ll enjoy the most amazing perspective of the city and its surroundings once you get to the top.


Bologna the Archiginnasio

This structure is arguably the most significant in Bologna. It formerly served as Bologna University’s main structure. The structure now serves as a museum. Inside the structure are the public library and the Anatomical Theater. When the city moved the university to Palazzo Pogo in 1803, it ceased to serve as the primary university building.

The Emilia-Romagna region’s most significant public library, which first opened its doors in 1838, has a remarkable historical collection that includes over 850,000 various volumes, pamphlets, journals, and manuscripts. Some of the editions are from the sixteenth century.

The structure also houses the Anatomical Theater, where medical students learn about anatomy. The theater has an amphitheater design. This distinctive theater sustained entire damage during the Second World War’s bombardment. Fortunately, it was reconstructed using the surviving intact parts.

Bologna the Anatomical Theater

Archaeological Museum of Bologna

The museum’s Piazza Maggiore home, Palazzo Galvani, first welcomed visitors in 1881. The museum houses one of Italy’s finest collections of antiquities. Local history features ancient artifacts from Rome and Greece. The museum’s extensive collection spans numerous periods and cultures across nine distinct galleries.

Bologna the Archeological Museum

This museum is a must-see if you’re into learning about the evolution of Italian and European civilizations.

National Gallery Bologna (Pinacoteca Nazionale)

The 14th century is represented in a range of works of art in this gallery, established in 1762. It is regarded as one of Europe’s most important art museums.

Santuario di Madonna di San Luca

The biggest portico in the world ends at the entrance to Santuario di Madonna di San Luca. Bologna’s most well-known landmark is the church that is devoted to the Virgin Mary of St. Luca. The church is located on Mount del Guardia (Colle del Guardia), about 300 meters above the city.

Around 1194, toward the end of the 12th century, work on the church’s construction began. It didn’t get finished until 1765. It’s a great place to visit and discover the inside paintings and unique architectural designs. We advise you to take the 2.6-mile portico walk when you visit the church because it is a unique experience. On top of the hill where the church is located, you’ll enjoy a stunning view of the city and its surroundings.

Torre di Prendiparte

Bologna gives off the impression of a medieval city when walking through it. You feel like you are traveling back in time as you walk through the various old buildings, squares, porticos, and towers. Bologna has a variety of towers, all of which were utilized for defense. One of the best-preserved towers from the medieval era is arguably Torre di Prendiparte, commonly known as Coronata Tower.

After the Asinelli Tower, it is the second-largest structure in Bologna. Given its height, which is 60 meters, it is not even all that spectacular. However, the way the tower is constructed, with its substantial concrete blocks and distinctively red bolognese color, gives the impression that it is a powerful medieval fortification.

The levels of the Torre di Prendiparte serve various purposes. The third through fifth floors were utilized as prison cells, and thanks to recent repairs, you can still see some indications of what inmates had scrawled on the bricks. It’s a terrific idea to see the tower. You’ll get a stunning city perspective when you get to the summit.

St. Stephen Basilica

Bologna le Sette Chiese

This intriguing building is possibly the oldest in Bologna, but its exact beginnings are still debated. Some contend it was built in the tenth century on directives from the city’s patron saint, Bishop San Vitale. He lived in 430 AD. When you enter, you immediately see the many buildings despite the exterior, giving the impression that it is only a modest church. The church consists of seven churches, each with its unique history. It’s fascinating to observe how Catholicism has evolved.

The Markets in Bologna

You undoubtedly think of Italian cuisine and fashion when you think of that country. In Bologna, you can have everything. Around the city, there are numerous food and clothing markets to visit. Some are open daily, and others are open multiple times per week.

Piozalla Market

assorted fruits at the market

Although Bologna has some of the best shopping in Italy, Milan is renowned as one of the world’s fashion capitals. The Piozalla market has been a weekly market since 1251, a very long time ago. Every Friday and Saturday from nightfall till morning, it formerly operated as a cattle market. Today, the world is a market where anything and everything is available. It offers something for everyone and has almost 400 stalls. Bologna is, without a doubt, the best location for shopping. The market is near Piazza VIII Agosto and Montagnola Park.

Bologna Antique Market

The neighborhood antique market is in front of the St. Stephen Basilica on the second Saturday and Sunday of each month. Even though it’s small, the Bologna market is fun to visit while you’re there during these times. You might find anything you want, like vintage postcards, stamps, and walking sticks, among many other vintage goods.

Mercato Del Vintage

People in a Market

The location of this market is in Piazza Punton, and it is open on Tuesdays. This market is where you want to go if you like antiques, used goods, and clothing.

Quadrilatero Market (Old Market)

Bologna the old Market

The Quadrilatero is a small neighborhood in downtown Bologna with strolling pathways connecting some of the city’s main shopping areas. When artisans began to barter their wares in the Middle Ages, the Quadrilatero region grew. It remains a market where a wide variety of goods are available today. The market is the commercial heart of the historic district. Every day, this market is open.

Mercato Delle Erbe

This historic food market in Bologna is one of the largest indoor markets in all of Europe. Home to a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and cured meats, the store offers many varieties. It’s a great place to taste some of the region’s specialties!

Mercato Ritrovato (Farmers’ Market)

You must go to this farmers’ market if you enjoy tasting and purchasing locally produced goods. It includes freshly made cheese, olive oil, wine and beer (if you’re above Italy’s legal drinking age), veggies, honey, bread, cured meats, and much more.

Farmers from this region, around 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of Bologna, come to this market and sell their best goods for a fair price—often less than you’d pay at a supermarket!

This market is open every Saturday between the hours of 9 and 2, as well as every Monday night during the summer.

Bologna’s Famous Cuisine

The traditional food of Bologna is well-known and is also Italy’s food capital. It combines the best products from the Emilia-Romagna region into freshly prepared traditional dishes. If you enjoy eating traditional foods and are a food enthusiast, go on a bologna tour. Naturally, you can go to one of the neighborhood markets we mentioned before. But going on a cuisine tour with a local guide is also advised. A local tour guide may show you some interesting locations in the city and explain the history of the local cuisine.

If you are going to visit Bologna, we recommend you try the following things:


Gnocco Fritto with Mortadella

This pork-based meat is widely used in sandwiches or as a snack. It is a high-quality meat with pepper, olive, and other herbs flavors. The thin slices are ideal for lunchtime consumption.

Mortadella is made according to a traditional recipe and has a distinct flavor from its American counterpart, which is known as “Baloney” in America.

Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan Cheese wheels

Bologna is close to Parma, which is why you can also find authentic Parmesan cheese in this city. Be sure to sample the authentic cheese created in accordance with a traditional recipe. The cheese’s trademark makes it easy to identify.

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Vinegar tasting

We’ve all had at least one salad or another dish with balsamic vinegar, right? So what makes traditional Balsamico Vinegar so special? Well, the product commonly available in shops and restaurants is typically not traditional balsamic vinegar. It consists primarily of white wine vinegar with a balsamic flavor.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is comparable to quality wine and it is difficult to make. Balsamic Vinegar requires aging (some varieties are stored for over 25 years in oak barrels) and has a distinct flavor. There are a number of fantastic locations surrounding Bologna where you may sample authentic balsamic vinegar and observe its production.


Tortellini in cream sauce

Tortellini is a small stuffed pasta bomb. It is often filled with meat, but also available in vegetarian form. Tortellini is typically served as a soup or a side dish during the Apperitivo.

Tortellini is a tiny pasta pie and a must-try if you’re in Bologna!

Bolognese sauce

Tagliatelle Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is a traditional meat sauce originating in Bologna, but it is slightly different than the simple sauce we are familiar with. The traditional sauce takes time to get its unique taste, so make sure to try it when you’re not a vegetarian–you’ll find out that the taste is different.

Bolognese sauce and plump pillows of tortellini pasta are also some of foods that Bologna, Italy is known for. 

Tigelle (flatbread)

It is a traditional flatbread often referred to as Cresentine that is frequently consumed as a snack or during the aperitivo. The tiny thick breads resemble thick pancakes in appearance, but they frequently contain additional ingredients like cheese, cured meats, or vegetables.

Typical basket of Tigelle

Famous Wines from Bologna

Food is very important in Bologna culture. But what about the drinks? Let’s take a look at some of the region’s most popular wines and see how they compare favorably against Bologna’s famed meals, and it would also be best to know Italy’s legal drinking age before we get deep into it. 


In Bologna, the Emilia-Romagna region’s capital, you’ll find a wide variety of local wines. Lambrusco is the most well-known type of wine in this area. The Lombardy region, on the northern border of Bologna, is where Lambrusco gets its name. The vibrant metropolis of Milan serves as the Lombardy region’s capital.

The Lambrusco wines spread outside of Italy to other countries. These days, it is produced throughout the world and not just in the Lombardy region. Many wineries in the Bologna area produce this sparkling red wine. Lambrusco is a fruity-tasting, lightly sparkling red wine. It’s simple to drink while eating fresh pasta or enjoying an Apperitivo.


Pignoletto is a known for being a famous wine in Bologna Italy

There is a fantastic Italian alternative if you prefer white sparkling wines and aren’t in the mood for Champagne, which is not prosecco.

Pingelotto is a white frizzante wine created from the Pignoletto grape sparkling in Italian. A less well-known alternative to sparkling white wine is ordinary white wine.

The flavors are frequently described as vibrant and aromatic, tasting lemon and green apple. To us, it sounds like a newly bubbling wine!

It is a rare variety of wine and isn’t produced as frequently as Lambrusco. But Pignoletto is made by numerous wineries in the Bologna area.

Negretto (Italian’s forgotten secret)

two black glass bottles on the top of the brown wooden barrel

Typical of the Emilia-Romagna area, Negretto is a robust red wine. The grape’s pigmentation is what gives the fruit its name. It’s nearly as dark as black, making it the darkest grapes. The grapes from the Negretto variety were originally used solely for their color, but the wine was eventually produced on its own.

Due to the complexity of its production, this wine is rarely consumed. Clay soil is ideal for growing grapes because they are so frost-sensitive. As a result, it might be challenging to produce in the colder northern regions.

The difficulty of making this wine means that only a few winemakers attempt it. In addition, the quality of the goods they manufacture these days is exceptional. The wine known as Negretto is a dessert wine with a rich, fruity flavor. In spite of the fact that its dark hue suggests the opposite, most red wines are surprisingly light in both body and alcohol.

Going on a wine-tasting tour of the surrounding area is high on the list of things to do in Bologna. The best way to sample as many wines as possible is to arrange a trip with your tour guide.

Bologna’s Top Restaurants

Since there is such an abundance of delicious traditional dishes and wine, you may be wondering where you might get the best examples of this cuisine. In Bologna, you can choose from many different possibilities. You really can’t go wrong either way. There isn’t a single restaurant in Italy where we’ve had a bad meal over our many visits. Simply strolling in and ordering some of the local cuisines is one of our favorite things. And if we still can’t find the comfort we’re looking for, we go on.

We recommend visiting the city’s most notable attractions if you want something to do in Bologna. And if in case you don’t know, world-class restaurants and delicious traditional dishes have made Bologna, Italy the world’s food capital.

The city of Bologna in Italy was voted the world’s food capital due to its range of top-tier restaurants and mouth-watering traditional dishes.


Classic Bolognese cuisine is served in a contemporary manner at this distinctive restaurant, which has a limited menu. It’s the ideal location for a special dinner and a taste of regional customs. Traditional entrées are available, along with a variety of tasting menus that you can share.

Oltre is located at Via Majani 1, in the heart of Bologna. The restaurant is open every day except Tuesday. We advise that you make a reservation.

Mortadella Lab

The Mortadella Lab is the ideal location for a quick snack or meal. Despite being a fast-food takeaway bar, Mortadella Lab serves the tastiest sandwiches in the area.

The concept of a sandwich is elevated at Mortadella Lab. Everything is prepared from scratch, and the selection and quality of the products are superb. People constantly crowd this location. We heartily recommend stopping there for a quick snack while exploring the city.

In the heart of Bologna, via de monari 1/c, is where you can find Mortadella Lab. Mondays are a holiday for them. They are open from Noon till 9:00 PM every other day.

Osteria Francescana

Bologna is around an hour’s drive from Modena, where Osteria Francescana is. It can be the location where getting bookings is the most difficult. The cost of your trip may increase substantially if you eat here for dinner. A 12-course tasting menu is available for €290.

Osteria Francescana - a well known restaurant in Modena (near Bologna, Italy)

Massimo Bottura, a well-known Italian chef, runs the establishment. He gained international fame as the lead in the first season of Chef’s Table on Netflix. His famous Tortellini, which is substantially different from a conventional Tortellini, is one of his well-known culinary inventions. No whole Tortellini was on the plate, only six pieces arranged in a row. After adding this type to the menu, they ran into issues with the neighborhood. It held an opinion that they couldn’t alter this tried-and-true recipe. However, they persisted and succeeded.

Dining at Osteria Fransescana must be a wonderful experience. If you want to try it, have a plan in advance. There is frequently a waiting list that is months long.


Who founded Bologna Italy?

The Etruscans settled the city originally called Velzna, later renamed Felsina. Archaeologists discovered remnants of the Iron Age Villanovan culture near Bologna in 1853. 


One of Italy’s most unexpected cities has to be Bologna. Perhaps we ought to use the phrase underrated instead? We had no idea that this intriguing location would quickly climb to the top of our list of favorite Italian locations. In Bologna, Italy, there are countless amazing things to do, and don’t even get us started on the amazing food!

It’s clear why this city has the moniker “La Grassa” (the fat one). It’s challenging to resist nibbling on all the delicious food this city has to offer due to the great cuisine.

Bologna has a charm. Once you enter the lovely historic center, you immediately find it. The shifting facades of medieval buildings, the amazing churches, the porticos, the unique street art, and the gritty feel add character to the city.

Tourists typically ignore Bologna when they visit Italy. Instead, many tourists go to the well-traveled road and head straight for well-known cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice. These are all wonderful places, but Bologna is a hidden treasure.

We recommend you plan a trip to Bologna if you’re looking for an Italian getaway where hotels are still reasonably priced, the food is excellent (and affordable), and you can experience the local culture.