Bologna serves as the capital city of Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and is one of the most popular places in the country. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the city’s dining scene. Attractions in bologna has long been considered the gastronomic capital of Italy and the birthplace of several culinary staples. However, there is more to this lovely Italian city than just its food; it is also a cultural lovers’ dream destination.
While exploring Italian fare is a must when in Bologna, there are plenty of other things to do here, too. The city is filled with historic sites, impressive architecture, world-class museums, and more. If you don’t know where to start, we’ve compiled this list of the top 10 must-see attractions in Bologna.
(Pro tip: Most of these places do not allow guests to carry oversized luggage with them. To avoid any issues, look for a luggage storage locker in the city and deposit your things there.)
The Archiginnasio di Bologna is one of the city’s most important buildings as well as a must-see attraction when in the city. Once a main building of the University of Bologna, it has since been turned into a popular tourist spot as it is home to the remarkable Biblioteca comunale dell’Archiginnasio (Archiginnasio Municipal Library), a library with a massive collection of antique books and publications.
But perhaps the most interesting section of the building is the Anatomical Theater, which is a former classroom made out of wooden sculptures. In the past, the hall was once used by medical students to see cadavers being dissected. Another area worth visiting is the Stabat Mater Hall, which has held conferences from key figures such as Albert Einstein.
Bologna has no shortage of incredible museums and one of the top ones that you should visit when in the city is the Museum of Modern Art, Bologna. Also known simply as MAMbo, this state-of-the-art museum dedicated to contemporary and experimental art, particularly those from the Second World War up until the present day.
Located in a former bakery, the museum’s collection features the works of artists like Filippo de Pisis, Mario Schifano, Maurizio Cattelan, Emilio Isgrò, and more. They also host rotating exhibitions as well as special projects.
3. Piazza Maggiore
Considered the heart of the city, Piazza Maggiore is Bologna’s main square and one of the must-see attractions in the city. The area is always buzzing, especially during the summer, and is home to some of the most striking and impressive buildings in the city, such as the Basilica di San Petronio, the Palazzo Comunale, and the Palazzo del Podesta.
Every now and then, the square hosts some events such as the Sotto le Stelle del Cinema (Cinema Under the Stars) and open-air concerts. It is also a favorite hangout for locals and tourists who like to unwind and people watch.
4. Le Due Torri
While Pisa is the city known for its leaning tower, Bologna actually has TWO leaning towers that can rival its more popular counterpart. Collectively referred to as the Le Due Torri, or the “two towers”, the Torre Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda have been around since the 12th century and are two of the most cherished attractions in the city.
The taller of the two, the Torre Asinelli, features nearly 500 steps that guests have to climb to get to the top but the effort is definitely worth it as you get an excellent view of the city.
5. Santuario di Santo Stefano
Being predominantly a Catholic nation, Italy boasts a number of religious buildings and institutions across its cities, including Bologna. Arguably the most impressive one in the city is the Santuario di Santo Stefano, which is also Bologna’s oldest church.
Known locally as Sette Chiese (seven churches), the Santuario di Santo Stefano is actually a complex that features numerous individual churches that were built between the 10th and 13th centuries. While each of the churches has its own specific style and purpose, they all blend together perfectly to create this incredible attraction.
6. Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
Nestled on top of the Mote della Guardia is the gigantic basilica known as the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca. One of the oldest churches in Italy, this magnificent 18th century sanctuary houses a Virgin Mary representation and is home to the longest portico in the world.
There are two options available for guests who want to reach the building. The first option would be to climb up the steps up to the terrace for a panoramic view of the city while the second option would be to take the San Luca Express Train, which starts at the Piazza Maggiore and takes you to the top of the hill where the basilica is located.
The National Gallery is Bologna’s primary art gallery, which houses and displays the works of top Bolognese artists. The gallery’s collection dates back to the 14th century until present day and includes pieces such as the Estasi di Santa Cecilia by Raphael, the Madonna di San Ludovico by Annibale Carracci and the Comunione di San Girolamo by Agostino Carracci. Some early works by Titian, El Greco, and Giotto can also be found in the National Gallery.
8. Il Quadrilatero
Bologna is best known for its culinary expertise and the Il Quadrilatero is a definite must-visit for tourists, especially if you’re a foodie! Located in downtown Bologna, the Il Quadrilatero is a medieval market that’s lined with numerous stalls, cafés, and gourmet delis. Here, you can sample some Bolognese favorites such as the tagliatelle, tortellini, and ragu.
Housed within Palazzo Galvani, the Museo Civico Archeologico is another world-class museum worth paying a visit to when in attractions in bologna. This cultural attraction has an impressively rich collection of Etruscan and prehistoric artifacts as well as valuable treasures from the Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Celtic civilizations.
10. San Domenico Basilica
Just about a 5-minute walk from the great Piazza Maggiore is the San Domenico Basilica, one of the many famous churches of Bologna. The 13th century Romanesque-style church is characterized by its incredible rose window, which looks even more impressive from the inside attractions in bologna. There are numerous chapels and shrines in the area and the church is filled with rows of sculptures, some of which were created by renowned artist Michelangelo during his youth.