fun & unusual things to do in Bologna, Italy

Home to ancient palaces, the oldest active university, world-famous foods and envy-inducing sports cars, Bologna exudes extravagance — offering visitors a taste of the finer things in life.

The city’s ubiquitous dish Ragù alla Bolognese, served always with tagliatelle and the local Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, has captured the hearts of many foodies from around the globe.

From its centuries-old towers to its modern factories, the city is packed with engineering and artistic marvels. Many of the country’s most luxurious vehicles are made right here in Italy’s Motor Valley, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati.

And with its remarkable ruins, active sports scene, and excellent wineries and bars, it’s the perfect place to absorb some authentic Italian culture.

Spend the daytime ambling under the shadows of impressive buildings and public squares, then while away your evenings at the hopping clubs that prove that this ancient town has a modern edge!

Discover the Roman roads and piazzas of this wealthy city — practically a living museum with an ancient canal system nestled beneath its streets. There’s no shortage of things to do in Bologna and here are some of the best.

1 – Amble through the Piazza Maggiore

The beating heart of the city, Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna. It dates from the 12th-century and is home to some of the most important, and impressive, municipal buildings in the city.

A fun thing to do is to walk among the buildings here and really feel the history of the place.

From magnificent medieval structures to one of the oldest universities on the continent, it’s the perfect place to start absorbing city life, whether solo or on a walking tour.

The Basilica of San Petronio, the Palazzo dei Notai and the Palazzo d’Accursio can all be found here. The city’s main shopping street, Via dell’Independenza starts from the Piazza Maggiore.

2 – Climb the famous Bologna Towers

In the 12th and 13th-centuries, the wealthy families of Bologna loved building towers. It is not fully known why but it was probably for defense as well as a symbol of their wealth and status.

Of the estimated 80-100 towers that once filled the city only about 20 remain. Two of the best-preserved are the Asinelli and Garisenda towers in Piazza Ravengnana.

Visitors can climb the 498 steps to the top of the Asinelli tower, which at 97-meters high has fantastic views but ain’t for the faint of heart.

Directions in Google Maps

3 – Explore Piazza Santo Stefano

The piazza gets its name from the Church of Santa Stefano which occupies the whole Eastern side of this triangular space.

Rather than being a single church, Santa Stefano is a complex of religious buildings which gives the square its alternate name, the piazza of Seven Churches.

Originally formed by the Isolani family in the medieval era, the complex grew and shifted over the years, eventually becoming the interconnected network of religious institutions we see today.

Throughout the year it hosts a variety of events and concerts as well as weekly markets. It is one of the quieter piazzas in the city, a perfect place to sit and people-watch over a glass of wine.

4 – Indulge yourself on a food tour

For foodies and gastronauts, there couldn’t be a better destination than Bologna.

The city’s best-loved cuisines include the world-famous Tagliatelle al Ragù Bolognese, cured meats and sausages like mortadella and prosciutto and sharp cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano.

Why not get to know the city’s food culture with the help of a local guide?

Take one of many food tours while in the city and sample the best local places to dine and shop and discover where to pick up the finest ingredients.

Whether you’re checking out the best lunch places or exploring some of the secret culinary hotspots around town, it’s the perfect way to dive into the famously fabulous food scene!

5 – See Cassini’s meridian line at Basilica San Petronio

Basilica San Petronio, Bologna

Named after the city’s patron saint, San Petronio Church is quite a sight to see. It was due to be enlarged during the 1600s which would have made it the biggest church in the country until Pope Pious IV commissioned the Archginnasio nearby.

As it stands it is still the largest brick-built church in the world.

The ceiling of one of the chapels has a gruesome and unusual fresco by Giovanni di Modena and the floor features a meridian line created by famous Italian astronomer Gian Domenico Cassini.

Definitely check out the amazing features of this unique church during your time in Bologna.

6 – See legendary cars at the Museo Ferrari

Immerse yourself in the motorsport paradise that is the Ferrari museum. Less than an hour’s drive from Bologna, the museum is a must-see for motoring enthusiasts.

It follows the history of the iconic brand and includes early cars like 1951’s Ferrari 500 F2 to the modern F2004.

The museum also houses classic road cars and offers visitors the chance to channel their inner Schumacher on an F1 simulator.

A trip to the birthplace of these legendary cars is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip.

7 – See the Torre Prendiparte

Torre Prendiparte, Bologna

The city’s second-tallest tower after Asinelli, the Torre Prendiparte stands at over 59 meters high.

This looming Bologna landmark was built in the 12th-century by the powerful Guelph Prendiparte family in the middle of a volatile civil war. It was used as a fortress for the family in times of upheaval.

More recently it was a jail for religious prisoners but is now a private residence as well as a bed and breakfast. The tower’s owners occasionally open it to the public for viewing.

Even if you can only see the outside, it’s well worth taking some time to enjoy the spectacular architecture – and the equally fascinating story behind it!

Directions in Google Maps

8 – Explore the Porticoes of Bologna on a bike tour

Porticoes of Bologna

Part of what makes Bologna so unique is its series of porticoes which run for around 38 miles throughout the city.

The areas have long been used as trading places and gathering points offering respite from the weather.

The porticoes are a UNESCO World Heritage site and come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Some of the oldest date back to the 1300s and are constructed of wood such as at Casa Isolani.

There are even portico pathways such as Via Saragozza, which extends to almost four kilometers.

9 – Visit the places of Lucio Dalla

Lucio Dalla, Bologna

One of Italy’s best-loved singers and composers, Lucio Dalla spent his whole life amidst the streets of Bologna. Many of his songs use the city as a set including the streets and piazzas he would visit as a boy.

One of the composer’s biggest hits was the song Caruso which has been covered by everyone from Metallica to Pavarotti.

There are a number of sites to visit around the city related to the singer. Visitors can tour the Fondazione di Lucio Dalla, his impressive palazzo house which is now a museum to the singer.

There is also a statue of Dalla seated on a bench in Piazza Cavour, near to where the singer was born.

10 – See Bologna’s hidden canals at Finestrella di Via Piella, Little Venice

Little Venice & Bologna Hidden Canals, Bologna

Though it’s hard to tell now, Bologna was once a city of canals, much like Venice. In the medieval period, the city boasted more than 37 miles of canals and waterways many of which have been paved over or covered.

The Finestra di Via Piella is a small window into the city’s past which shows one of the city’s still visible canals.

Take a trip to Bologna’s Little Venice during your time in the city and discover the history of this once prosperous trade district and the waterways that made it possible.

Directions in Google Maps

11 – Glimpse historic local artworks at Pinacoteca Nazionale Bologna

Bologna National Gallery, Bologna

Housed in the former Sant’Ignazio Church, Bologna’s National Gallery is the place to go to follow the city’s artistic heritage.

Its collection contains paintings from the 13th to the 18th-century by local artists and those who had some connection with the city, including Raphael, El Greco, Parmigianino and Giotto.

The ceiling of the gallery still retains some of the frescoes painted in the 18th-century by Giuseppe Barbieri.

Stop by this gorgeous space to enjoy the range of collections – they’re a perfect showcase for the long history of art in the area!

12 – Have a day out at FICO World Eataly & Luna Farm

FICO World Eataly & Luna Farm, Bologna

In Bologna they love food so much they created a theme park dedicated to it! Fico World Eataly is a fun day out for kids and parents and has food courts and stores, cooking classes, rides and attractions and even a farm.

Send the kids off to ride on the spinny things while you sample some of the best dishes and wines from all over Italy.

With its unique blend of education and entertainment, this is one of the best things to do in Bologna for families… and it makes for a delicious day out on the town!

The park is located just outside the city center you can take the bus from the central station.

13 – See the whole city on a hop on hop off bus tour

Bus Tour in Bologna

One of the easiest and most hassle-free ways to see Bologna is by taking a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.

Visit all the major sites and get on and off as many times as you like stopping wherever interests you. The main stops include Piazza Maggiore, San Michele in Bosco and Piazza Malpighi.

The best part about these tours is the flexibility; you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like at the various sites, then step aboard the next bus when you’re ready to continue!

There are also smaller electric-bus tours that run through the city’s narrow streets, visiting Via Farini, the two towers of Asinelli and Garisenda and the Jewish Ghetto.

14 – Discover experimental art at MAMbo – Modern Art Museum

Looking for the best in contemporary art in the city? Look no further.

Mambo has a particular focus on experimental art and follows the progression of the Italian art scene from the Post World War II period up to the modern day.

Its permanent collection includes works from the Arte Povera period of the 1960s as well as a rotating program of temporary exhibitions featuring the best of contemporary Italian art.

Along with its own impressive catalog, the museum also collaborates with several nearby institutions, creating a network of cultural inquiry that benefits visitors and curators alike.

Admission to MAMbo is free to holders of the Bologna Welcome Card.

15 – Take a picnic at Giardini Margherita

Giardini Margherita, Bologna

Visiting Bologna’s biggest and best-loved park, Giardini Margherita is one of the quintessential things to do in Bologna. Designed in the late 1800s, the park is a work of art for people to enjoy.

The park extends to 26 hectares and includes a part of the Savena Canal system which was constructed in the 12th-century.

If you visit on a sunny day you will see lots of locals walking, jogging or hanging out with friends and family over a picnic.

Check out the bridge that crosses the lake, it is a great point to stand and spot fish and turtles in the water below.

16 – Grab a bite to eat at Quadrilatero Old Market

Running between Piazza Maggiore and the two towers, the Quadrilatero Old Market is the place to go for an authentic shopping experience, as one of the necessary things to do in Bologna.

Historically the place to pick up crafts and artisan products, many of the stores have been handed through generations and retain their classic furnishings.

It’s also a haven for foodies, with a famously strong lineup of street food and traditional offerings, including pastas, cheeses, and wines.

If you’re looking for the freshest fruit and vegetables or on the hunt for a nice place to grab a bite to eat, definitely check out Quadrilatero Market.

Directions in Google Maps

17 – Discover jaw-dropping supercars at Museo Lamborghini

Museo Lamborghini, Bologna

If you’re on the hunt for fun things to do near Bologna the Lamborghini Museum should be high on your list.

Not just for sports car enthusiasts, the Lamborghini museum is sure to be fun for everyone.

Visit the production line and see where these supercars are born then tour the showrooms to see classic models, rare prototypes and concept cars.

See early vehicles like the Miura and Countach and modern cars like the Sesto Elemento> and Huracán EVO RWD.

You can even peek into the design process for hybrid vehicles!

18 – Visit the Anatomical Theater at the Archiginnasio

Once the main building of Bologna University, the Archginnasio is one of the city’s most important historical buildings.

It was commissioned in the 1600s by Pope Pious IV, who also commissioned the Fountain of Neptune during large-scale renovations of Piazza Maggiore.

The building houses the municipal library of the Achginnasio, which includes 850,000 volumes some of which are very old. Don’t miss the Anatomical Theater which dates back to 1635, as this is one of the unusual things to do in Bologna.

This is where students would attend anatomy lessons to see the dissection of cadavers. The walls of the Archginassio have some 6,000 coats of arms representing the best of the university’s students.

19 – Take a wine tasting tour

Wine tasting, Bologna

For a unique and fun experience in Bologna why not try a wine tasting tour? Visit nearby vineyards to see the process of making fine wines and learn what makes the region’s wines so unique.

Discover favored local grape varieties like Pignoletto and Lambrusco. Try regional specialties foods and a few varieties of the district’s best-loved wines.

These small tours are a great way for wine enthusiasts to discover new flavors and see the beautiful locations in which they are born.

Whether you’re exploring the spots near the city center or venturing further to pair world-class strains with equally excellent meals, it’s a wonderful way to absorb the local culture – and some great drinks along the way!

20 – Uncover ancient cultures at the Archaeological Museum of Bologna

If history is your thing, and if you’re visiting Bologna it probably is, the Archeological Museum will blow you away.

It houses a collection of truly ancient human artifacts covering the period from the Stone Age to the beginning of the Middle Ages.

The museum’s Ancient Egypt collection contains over 3,500 items and is one of the largest in the country. Its exhibitions also cover the Greek Classical period and Bologna from pre-history to Roman times.

This is a must-see for aspiring archeologists and those fascinated by ancient cultures.

21 – See “La Nonna” at Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro

Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, Bologna

Not as well known as San Petronio Church, The Church of San Pietro is actually the city’s cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Bologna and has been since 1582.

The cathedral sits on the site of a much older church from 1028 but most of it was built in the 17th and 18th centuries.

It contains some impressive artworks including a group of terracotta statues by Alfonso Lombardi and frescos by Ludovico Carracci.

When visiting the church, take a trip up the bell tower to take in the views and see the huge “La Nonna” bell which weighs over three tons.

Directions in Google Maps

22 – See a diplodocus skeleton at the Geological and Paleontological Museum

Geological and Paleontological Museum, Bologna

The Roman artifacts of Bologna are impressive but for an even deeper look into history, you have to check out the Paleontological Museum. It is absolutely jam-packed full of fossils and skeletons of ancient creatures.

See the skeletons of diplodocus that roamed the earth millions of years ago as well as the remains of mammoths and ancient monkey skulls.

You can also check out some more unique exhibits, such as innovative explorations of the intersections between art and science.

The museum’s displays have been collected over a period of 500 years and include almost a million items. Kids and adults alike will enjoy seeing this amazing collection.

23 – Play a scavenger game across Bologne

scavenger games in Bologna

Scavenger games have long been a hit at parties, but did you know that they can also help you learn more about the city?

These new and improved models turn you into a combination tour guide and super sleuth, exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of the city as you follow clues to your next destination.

Simply download the app, then set off for a day full of fun, solving mysteries and taking in the area’s many legends.

It’s the perfect all-ages activity, especially if you’re encountering the city for the first time!

24 – Visit the very old town hall at Palazzo d’Accursio

Few cities can claim the long history that Bologna can. The Palazzo d’Accursio has been the seat of the municipal government since the 1300s.

Located in Piazza Maggiore, it is, without doubt, one of the city’s most important buildings.

Inside the palazzo, visitors can check out the city art collections on the second floor as well as the impressive frescoes in the Sala Urbana and Sala Farnese, the latter of which was the location for the coronation of Charles V in 1530.

Don’t miss the spectacular fresco on the first floor, which vividly showcases various mythological scenes.

Directions in Google Maps

25 – View the instrument collection of the International Museum and Library of Music

International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna

Opened as recently as 2004, the International Museum and Library of Music in Palazzo Sanguinetti is a great place for music lovers to discover the art form’s history.

The museum is spread over nine rooms and includes 80 historical instruments, 100 portraits of influential musicians and a huge library of sheet music as well as important letters and documents.

Some of the most important pieces in the instrument collection include a harpsichord from the 1600s and a rare polyphonic flute.

This is sure to be a fun highlight of your time in Bologna for all music lovers.

26 – Eat traditional foods at the best trattorias

traditional food, Bologna

For casual dining in informal surroundings, you will definitely want to check out some of the city’s best trattorias.

In the olden days, an osteria was more like a bar and didn’t necessarily serve food. Over time more osterias served snacks and the differences have become less.

Osteria dell’Orsa is a popular spot with students and has casual diner-style seating arrangements. Vo Mo La is a cozy spot that serves a popular ragú pasta dish.

La Fastuchera offers a different experience and serves Sicilian dishes including some good veggie and vegan options.

Osteria del Sole is the oldest osteria in Italy and there’s mention of it as far back as 1465. The building is still the same shape as it was then and it still serves great local foods and wines.

27 – Discover the world’s oldest university at the University of Bologna

University of Bologna

The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 which makes it the oldest continuously operating university in the world and an important reference point for our shared history.

As you can imagine, over its almost 1,000 years of operation it’s collected its share of treasures.

The university operates no less than 14 different museums in the city which display scientific and cultural objects from over nine centuries of research.

The museums are open to the public, Visit the website to see a map of their locations around the city.

28 – Wander through the Botanical Garden and Herbarium

Botanical Garden and Herbarium, Bologna

As is often the case in Bologna, the Botanical Garden and Herbarium are not just outstanding but also amongst the oldest in the country.

The garden was founded in the 1500s to aid students in studying the medicinal properties of types of plants.

Visitors can walk among this impressive living museum and see plants organized as they would grow naturally.

The gardens have four greenhouses which are home to a variety of tropical plants and succulents. Definitely take in this peaceful place during a quiet afternoon in Bologna.

29 – Discover the treasures of the Medieval Museum

Medieval Museum, Bologna

With such a long and interesting history, it’s no surprise that Bologna is rife with medieval artifacts and objects.

For a closer look at some of the city’s treasured antiques, it’s worth a trip to the Civic Medieval Museum.

The collection includes objects from the 7th-century onward and even features a model of the Neptune fountain by its creator, Giambologna.

As well as artworks you can also find weapons, glassware and manuscripts that have survived the years.

It’s the perfect place to get a comprehensive view of the city’s history – and the locals that inspired it!

30 – Sample all of the city’s best gelato

gelato, Bologna

If this is your first visit to an Italian city you will be amazed by the extent of gelato flavors available. From classic lemon to rich indulgences like pistachio and salted caramel It is your civic duty to try them all!

Cremeria Santa Stefano is one of the most popular spots in town with some of the richest chocolatey offerings around. Galleria 49 is another popular gelateria that leans towards the experimental side and also serves fruity granitas.

Some other recommended spots in the city to pick up fantastic ice creams are Cremeria Funivia, Il Gelatauro and Gelateria Carpigiani.

Vegan and gluten-free people don’t need to miss out either as they are well catered for at Stefino Gelato Biologico and La Sorbetteria Castiglione.

Buon appetito a tutti!

31 – Take a segway tour of Ghetto Ebraico

Bologna’s Jewish Ghetto is a very unique part of the city. The area has a number of artisan trade and craft shops including jewelers, goldsmiths, printers and shoemakers.

The streets are narrower here and create a maze-like warren of passageways and bridges which remain similar to its original character.

The area was created in the 1500s when Pope Paul IV ordered that the Jewish community be segregated from the city.

The ghetto was an enclosed area that was locked each evening at sunset. Visitors shouldn’t miss this authentic and beautiful part of the city.

32 – Walk amongst the wreckage at Museum for the Memory of Ustica

Museum for the Memory of Ustica, Bologna
credit to Museo per la Memoria di Ustica / photo modified

Not one of the city’s most fun attractions but definitely unusual, the Museum for the Memory of Ustica is a memorial to the crashed plane, Itavia Flight 870.

The plane suffered an in-air explosion and crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea near the island of Ustica in 1980.

The cause of the accident is believed to be a missile strike of unknown origins which has made the crash a controversial topic in the news.

Visitors can walk amongst the salvaged wreckage of the plane to really understand the significance of the tragedy.

33 – See the incomparable Arca di San Domenico at Basilica San Domenico

Basilica San Domenico, Bologna

Though Bologna’s churches all have beautiful artwork and ornamentation, few have such an outstanding collection as Basilica San Domenico.

Some of its most valuable pieces are a crucifix by 13th-century painter Giunta Pisano, three sculptures by Michelangelo as well as works by Niccolò dell’Arca, Filippino Lippi and many of the finest Italian artists of the era.

The Arca di San Domenico holds the remains of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order. It was started by the influential Italian sculptor Nicola Pisano in 1262 and was worked on over the next 500 years by many of Italy’s most legendary sculptors.

Directions in Google Maps

34 – See the “sexy surprise” at Neptune Fountain & Square

The Fountain of Neptune is one of the most recognizable of Bologna’s landmarks. It sits in a square named after it just off Piazza Maggiore.

It was commissioned by the Catholic Church but legend has it that when the fountain was first unveiled, Pope Pious IV thought it was far too sexy (not a direct quote).

He ordered the sculptor, Giambologna, to reduce the size of Neptune’s genitals but it is said that the sculptor put a cheeky surprise in the statue when viewed from a certain angle.

The trident in Neptune’s hand inspired the logo of luxury car manufacturer Maserati, which originally hailed from the city.

Directions in Google Maps

35 – Spot the ruins beneath Salaborsa Library

Salaborsa Library, Bologna

In Bologna even the public library is beautiful! The Salaborsa Library is located in one of the city’s most fabulous palazzos overlooking the Piazza del Nettuno.

Aside from its function as a public library, the building also has some pretty impressive sites to visit.

Glass panels in the center of the lower floor give visitors a view of the Roman ruins that were discovered beneath the building during excavations in the 1990s.

There is also a lower level where visitors can get a closer look at the well-preserved ruins.

36 – Learn local culinary secrets at a Cooking Class

Few things will bring you into the heart of Bolognese culture like a cooking class. Learn to prepare famous regional dishes and learn to cook them “the right way”.

Be welcomed into a local’s home for an intimate lesson in the culinary arts or join a larger organized class at a cookery school.

Tour the local markets and collect fresh ingredients then learn to make authentic pasta dishes. Before you know it you’ll be making tortellini like a pro. Here’s a small piece of Italy you can take home with you!

37 – See historic scientific instruments at the Palazzo Poggi Museum

Palazzo Poggi Museum, Bologna

The University of Bologna’s headquarters, Palazzo Poggi, has an amazing scientific heritage.

Home to the Bologna Institute of Science since 1714, it houses not only diverse scientific instruments and anatomical figures but also fine art.

You can even find old military pieces and unique natural history specimens – it’s a true smorgasbord for the curious mind!

The Palazzo was commissioned by a noble Bologna family and features some fantastic frescoes by Pellegrino Tibaldi.

Be sure to explore this amazing museum and its collection which is unique in the whole world.

38 – Stop into an art show at Palazzo Fava

Palazzo Fava, Bologna

The famous frescos of Palazzo Fava were created in the late-1500s by brothers Agostino and Annibale Carracci and their cousin Ludovico.

The building then belonged to Filippo Fava, head of one of the city’s most prominent families who commissioned the works.

This decorated space now houses galleries and exhibition spaces for national and international art shows.

Along with this continually rotating roster, you can enjoy some of the more permanent pieces in the collection, including some remarkable miniatures and puppets.

39 – See famous racing machines at Museo Ducati

Museo Ducati, Bologna

The biggest name in Italian bikes, Ducati is synonymous with race-winning, high-performance street machines.

Explore some of the manufacturer’s best-loved models and follow the company’s history from its first production bike in the late 1940s to the present day.

See its most famous Grand Prix champions as well as its best-selling street bikes like the  Scrambler 450 and twin-cylinder 750 GT from the 1960s and 70s.

While any visit will be an adventure, it’s well worth booking a guided tour to get the most out of your experience, and to really get a feel for the amazing story of these top-notch machines.

Petrol-heads will have great fun on a trip to the Ducati museum.

40 – See the view from Santuario di Madonna di San Luca on Monte della Guardia

Santuario di Madonna di San Luca, Bologna

One of Bologna’s most iconic and recognizable buildings, The Sanctuary of San Luca is located on the top of Monte della Guardia just outside of the city.

While religious processions have been using the area since the 1400s, the portico was created in the 1600s, while the church itself didn’t make an appearance until the 1700s.

The sanctuary has a porticoed walkway that runs for 4 kilometers from the city making it the longest in the world.

Monte della guardian sits 300 meters above the city and has amazing views of the surrounding region. Definitely take a walk up there to see the sights and snap off a few photos.

Directions in Google Maps

41 – See the “Scream of Stone” at Santa Maria della Vita Church

Santa Maria della Vita Church, Bologna

There’s no shortage of impressive and beautiful churches in Bologna and the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita is no exception.

The church was built in the late 1700s to replace an older church destroyed by the Earthquake of 1686.

It houses a famous series of sculptures by Niccolò dell’Arca called the Lamentation of Christ or “Scream of Stone” as it has come to be known.

The church is part of a complex that once included a hospital and is now a museum to health and medical care in the city.

Directions in Google Maps

42 – Explore Palazzo Re Enzo

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna

After almost 800 years, Palazzo Re Enzo is still an important cultural center in the city hosting exhibitions and events.

It got its name from King Enzio of Sardinia who was held prisoner here for 23 years until his death in 1272.

The palazzo is now open to visitors and you can take an audio-guided tour of its majestic halls to discover all about the King who lived here.

Explore the medieval architecture and the grand halls of this amazing building.

And be sure to check the calendar before you go, because there’s no shortage of great exhibits and events throughout the year!

43 – Step into Roman Bologna with La Macchina del Tempo

La Macchina del Tempo, Bologna

Walking through Bologna you might feel like you’ve stepped back in time but La Macchina del Tempo (The Time Machine) is the closest thing to actually doing so. Don a Virtual Reality headset and visit the “Virtual Museum”.

Step into the ancient Roman streets of Bologna and discover how the city and its people looked over 2,000 years ago, then wind your way through medieval settlements, experiencing every step in phenomenal detail.

It’s one of the coolest ways to explore history – and as the first exhibit of its kind in Italy, it’s also one of the most unique!

Not just limited to Bologna visitors can travel to destinations like the tomb of Tutankhamun and even Dante’s vision of hell. Amazing!

44 – Visit Museo Davia Bargellini

credit to Musei Civici d’Arte Antica

Located in the Piazza of the same name, Museo Davia Bargellini has a really unique collection of decorative artifacts and antique furniture.

The collection belonged to the Davia family who inherited it along with the building when the prominent Bargellini family were expelled from the city.

It has a wide range of objects entitled Curiosities from old Bologna including puppets and scenery, ceramics, models of miniature homes and much more.

You can also enjoy more traditional exhibits as well, including paintings and antique furniture pieces.

45 – Discover the city’s historic shops

shopping, Bologna

One of the most fun things to do in Bologna is to explore the local shops. Some of the city’s favorite shops are also some of its oldest.

Libreria Nanni is the city’s oldest bookstore and has been selling new and used books since 1825. The hardware store, Ferramenta Castaldini has been serving customers since the 1880s and has some interesting old items on display.

The most interesting shop in the city might be Aguzzeria del Cavallo which once sharpened blades and tools with a horse-powered mechanism. It still sharpens and makes knives and also sells interesting cooking implements.

46 – See how the city worked at Industrial Heritage Museum

credit to European Route of Industrial Heritage

Before the Industrial Revolution, Bologna was already at the cutting edge of technology. The city pioneered a type of silk throwing machine that made it a leading producer of silk in Europe.

Though none of these machines have survived, visitors can see a half-size working replica in the Industrial Heritage Museum.

The museum covers more recent history too and shows the ingenuity and global relevance of Bologna’s industries which are still at the forefront of engineering today.

From tortellini machines to the systems that would eventually help bring Ducatis and Lamborghinis to life, each piece has a fascinating story – and they all look pretty awesome, too!

47 – Stay at Casa Isolani and spot The 3 Arrows

Casa Isolani, Bologna

The striking Casa Isolani is one of Bologna’s surviving 13th-century houses. The building’s third floor overhangs the street and is supported on oak beams that are over 9 meters tall.

As the name suggests, this magnificent space once housed the powerful local Isolani family, and each of the surviving rooms tells a fascinating story of the city’s early years – along with being a great place to stay!

Casa Isolani is a bed and breakfast offering guests the amazing opportunity to stay in such a historic building.

The overhanging third floor of Casa Isolani contains three arrows stuck into the wooden beams. There are some local legends regarding their origin but the true story behind them is lost in time.

48 – Horseback riding in Sasso Marconi

horse riding in Bologna

Just outside of the main part of town, the gorgeous rural region of Ssso Marconi is perfect for a bit of horseback riding!

Even if you’re a newcomer, you’ll quickly fall in love with the spectacular views and relaxing nature of this classic tour option… and with your noble steed as well!

Enjoy quiet backroads, gorgeous valley views, and rolling meadows broken up by historic buildings, as you explore a different side to this magnificent town.

It’s one of the most relaxing and invigorating things to do in Bologna!

49 – Catch a concert in the Museum of San Colombano

Museum of San Colombano, Bologna

Containing one of the finest collections of musical instruments in the city, the Museum of San Columbano is well worth a visit for music lovers.

The collection of over 90 fully maintained instruments belonged to renowned local musician and composer Luigi Tagliavini.

It contains a number of antique organs and harpsichords which are used frequently during concert season in the museum.

Try to catch a performance while you’re in the area or merely call in to see this magnificent collection.

Save some time to visit the Oscar Mischiati Library as well; with over 15,000 vinyls, CDs, tapes, and printed works, it’s a spectacular treasure trove for musical history fans.

50 – Sample Italian Aperitivo culture with a happy hour

Aperitivo, Bologna

Throughout Italy, people love a good aperitivo. After 6 pm many people take to the cafes and bars to meet up with friends and grab a glass of something.

An aperitivo can be a glass of wine, spritz cocktail, or beer and usually comes with a snack be it bruschetta, olives, or sliced meats and cheeses.

Mercato delle Erbe and Mercato di Mezzo offer some informal places for a quick pick-me-up. Tamburini is a popular old deli and cafe nearby the Piazza Maggiore and Gamberini is a lively spot on Via Ugo Bassi which is also a pastry shop.

51 – Buy local fruits and cheeses at Mercato Delle Erbe

Mercato Delle Erbe, Bologna

The best place to buy groceries in the city, Mercato delle Erbe is an indoor market where you can pick up almost anything you need.

From fresh fruit and vegetables to prepared meats, local cheeses and olive oils it is all here. There are also a number of small eateries serving local fare and popular Bologna dishes.

The market is quite small but has a good variety of products and is popular with the locals so you know it’s good. Most stalls will not be open on Sunday so be sure to plan ahead.

52 – Get inspired to create at MAST

MAST, Bologna

If you’re into art, technology and creativity and preferably all rolled into one then you have to check out MAST.

This amazing museum/gallery space/cultural center features technology exhibitions, a gallery, rooms for workshops and educational activities and a cafe and restaurant.

The institution is run by the Coesia Group for the benefit of their employees as well as the public.

Admission is totally free so don’t miss out on this awesome and inspiring place while in Bologna. It’s easily one of the most fun places you will visit.

53 – Cheer at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

Stadio Renato Dall'Ara, Bologna

The Renato Dall’Ara Stadium is located right in the center of the city. Home to the Italian Serie A team Bologna Football Club 1909 for almost 100 years, it has seen its share of victories and heartbreaks.

For all you football fans, taking a tour of the grounds — one of the largest in Italy — is one of the fun things to do in Bologna. Visit the pressrooms, hospitality suites and changing rooms before running out onto the pitch.

If you have more time, you might even catch a game alongside thousands of screaming fans – an utterly thrilling experience for even a casual sports fan!

54 – Admire the street art

street art, Bologna

Bologna may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of street art but the local scene is really developing.

There are a few artworks spread about the city but for the larger pieces, it’s worth a trip outside the city center.

One particularly spectacular piece was created by Hollywood set designer Gino Pellegrini in the 1980s and can be found in Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto.

Why not take a street art tour while in the city to see the best of the local murals?

55 – See movies around the city at Cinema Ritrovato Festival

Cinema Ritrovato Festival, Bologna

For the past 35 years, Bologna has hosted the Cinema Ritrovato Festival, meaning Cinema Rediscovered, and attending this is one of the best cultural things to do in Bologna.

Over two weeks, the festival plays hundreds of films and projections across the city in beautiful settings, including the Piazza Maggiore and Arena del Sole.

Many of the films are from the 1930s to the 1960s allowing a new audience to discover the master directors and icons of a bygone era.

If you are lucky enough to be in Bologna during the event it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.

56 – Visit WWII-era Bologna at the Museo Memoriale della Libertà

Museo Memoriale della Libertà, Bologna
credit to Museo memoriale della libertà / photo modified

The museum dedicated to the Liberation of Italy at the end of the Second World War houses recreation scenes and dramatizations as well as artifacts from the period.

The Museo Memoriale della Libertà collection includes 50 military vehicles including tanks, planes and trains.

Visit key scenes from the final months of WWII including a bombing raid by Allied forces, the rounding up of civilians in a small village and the Battle of Porta Lame.

It offers a touching and personal account of the end of the war as experienced by ordinary people.

57 – Spend a night at the Theatre

Theatre, Bologna

If you fancy a night out at the theater, Bologna has many to choose from. For musical productions, Teatro Duse hosts concerts by Italian and international artists.

The Auditorium Manzoni puts on a range of Jazz and Pop artists as well as classical concerts and dance.

If comedy is more your thing Il Celebrazioni Theatre is a good bet and for the big names in theater and dance the historic and attractive Arena del Sole is the place to be.

The intimately-sized Teatro Baraccano is located in a 15th-century building and offers a unique small venue to see theatrical productions in.

58 – Sample the best Michelin restaurants

michelin starred restaurant, Bologna

Bologna also has a bunch of excellent restaurants that have made it into the MICHELIN guide. Most serve up variations of traditional Italian cuisine that will satisfy even the most critical food snob.

Some of the best are I Portici, housed in the hotel I Portici and the city’s only MICHELIN star restaurant, All’Osteria Bottega which serves up tasty regional dishes of Emilia Romagna.

Another great option is I Carracci, whose restaurant ceiling displays frescos by the Carracci family and Scaccomatto under the arcades at via Broccaindosso.

And don’t miss out on Emporio Armani Caffè e Ristorante, which is housed in the historical boutique district, and offers up some of the finest meals the area has to offer.

59 – Take in some candlelight concerts

candlelight concerts in Bologna

With an unbeatable combination of great music and beautiful aesthetics, the Candlelight Concert series is guaranteed to spark joy!

This string of productions treats guests to a relaxing atmosphere and top-notch symphonic performances… though you may be surprised at just whose works you hear!

One day, you might be listening to classical pieces by Einaudi and Mozart; the next, you’ll be enjoying reinterpretations of Queen, or stirring renditions of film scores by Hans Zimmer or Ennio Morricone.

No matter what music you’re experiencing, you’re guaranteed professional and gorgeous performances – not to mention an intimate, beautiful setting, with a room full of candles creating a magical experience.

60 – Get out in some of the city’s best bars

Discover Bologna’s nightlife and hit up some of the best bars in the city! Whether you’re into fine wines, cocktails or craft beers there are so many fantastic bars in Bologna to try.

Great wine and cocktails are available everywhere in the city and the Birra Artigianale (craft beer) scene here is small but definitely growing.

Some of the city’s best spots for a drink are Bar Vittorio Emanuele, a traditional bar in Piazza Maggiore, Astral Beer on Via Castiglione, Baladin, which has a number of bars throughout Italy, Beer 4 Bunnies, weird name but a good selection of local and international beers and Madama Beerstro with a selection of literally hundreds of beers.

61 – Dance the night away at the best nightclubs

Locomotiv Club, Bologna

If you’re looking for energetic places to spend an evening, you’ll certainly be spoiled for choice in this city!

Locomotiv Club puts on the best of eclectic alternative music, promoting its local scene and artists as well as bringing in international groups.

And it’s far from the only place in town to get your party on!

Check out the great bar and live events at Numa Club, or the three floors of awesome disco action at Qubo.

You can also enjoy dinner and high-octane dancing at the two-floor Matis Club, or the diverse cultural lineup at The Cassero, and LGBTQI-friendly hangout.

How to get to Bologna?

While Bologna is conveniently situated near other Italian hotspots, it also features an excellent airport for travelers coming from further away.

Better still, you can book an airport transfer to make the whole process even easier!

Simply choose the mode of transportation that works best for you, then settle in and enjoy a comfortable journey to the city – or to nearby destinations such as Pisa, Terriccio, or the nearby cruise ports.

Where to stay in Bologna?

If you want to stay in style then the Grand Hotel Majestic Già Baglioni is the uncontested best place in Bologna. The hotel is the oldest and most prestigious in the city and contains over 100 rooms.

I Portici Hotel Bologna is smack dab in the middle of town, offering all the best city amenities alongside its own excellent restaurant and bar. And at Savoia Hotel Regency, you can indulge in fine regional cuisine, gorgeous chandeliers, and a massive swimming pool, all housed in a splendid historic villa.

Hotel San Donato will keep you entertained for days on end, with its classy rooftop bar and most of the city’s big sites just a short walk away. And at Hotel Fiera Wellness & Spa, you’ll have clubs, shopping centers, and parks right outside the door, and wonderfully appointed rooms and renowned dining areas on the inside.

You can also enjoy a luxurious stay at Hotel Astoria, where you can stroll around the shops and museums nearby, hop aboard the convenient transit options to explore further, or just unwind for a while in the beautiful terrace area.

Visiting Bologna on a budget?

The city is great for exploring on foot, and even better when you embark on a free walking tour!

Led by passionate local guides, these excursions provide new perspectives on the city and its stories, as you explore hidden histories, funky trivia, great food options, and more.

Just remember to bring some cash to tip your guide!

Where to go next?

When you’re feeling even more adventurous, head out to some of the other best places to visit in Italy!

This country has long drawn visitors with its irresistible mix of history, culture, culinary options, and nature; and you can even indulge in a little bit of all of that within a few hours of Bologna!

From its gorgeous galleries to its magnificent buildings – not to mention those stunning canals! -, Venice has long been a cultural stronghold, exuding beauty and mystery around every corner.

And Verona has much more to offer than just its renowned literary reputation; it also features more than enough wineries, historic sites, and beautiful works of art to keep any traveler happy.

Milan’s reputation for style is only matched by its amazing art, excellent outdoor adventures, and bustling nightlife, making it a contemporary capital of cool.

And in Florence, you can alternate between world-class museums, gorgeous city strolls, and trying some of the best meals that the country has to offer… and that’s saying something!

Final thoughts

Radiating charm and elegance, this city easily earns its status as a beloved vacation spot!

Whether you want wild or mild things to do in Bologna, you’ll always be satisfied, especially if you’re seeking some more historical options… or a good meal!

This is one city you won’t want to bypass!

Happy travels!