Fountain of Neptune in Bologna
Bologna – Fountain of Neptune

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Flights to Bologna

British Airways

has fares starting from around 50, and flies to Bologna’s Airport Guglielmo Marconi, few miles from the city centre.

BA website is better than many other online airlines, in that it gives you the live prices of the fares, with taxes included, very clearly indicated on the same webpage.

Ryanair is obviously the cheapest, but only if you are prepared to have a flight with drastically reduced legroom, during which if the person sitting in front of you decides to lean their seat back you will feel as cramped as in a cage. Add to all this that with Ryanair you have so many charges added to the flight fare, from purchases of food and drink to check-in fees, from charges for issuing of boarding passes to bag fees, that you may doubt if you have really saved money at all. Not surprisingly, Ryanair has been found by Which?, the magazine of the Consumers’ Association, the “worst offender” airline for charging for extras.

A better option is to check consolidators.

Consolidators like Booking Buddy UK, a Trip Advisor company that compares over 50 travel sites for the best deals for flights, hotels, car hire and holidays, and Expedia USA have access to inclusive tour (IT) rates: the lowest possible fares offered by airlines to some tour operators provided that they are sold as part of a package, which can include flights and a hotel or flights and a hire car. You can find IT rates on the internet and you can book them online.


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Find a hotel in Bologna

Depending on your budget, you can find good value luxury hotels in Bologna starting from 50 euros per room, mid-price Bologna hotels from 40 euros per room and cheap Bologna hotels starting from 30 euros per room.

Bologna - Le Due Torri
Bologna – Le Due Torri


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Bologna attractions

* Art

Bologna’s historic centre is one of Europe’s largest, and contains a wealth of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque artistic monuments of primary importance.

The Pinacoteca Nazionale in Via Belle Arti 56, parallel to Via Zamboni, houses a rich collection of 13th to 18th century paintings by Bolognese and other artists, including Giotto, Raphael (Santa Cecilia), Parmigianino, Vitale da Bologna, Carracci, Il Guercino, Guido Reni.

Bologna has dozens of major art galleries and museums. We’ll just mention a few:

  • Collezioni Comunali d’Arte Palazzo d’Accursio in Piazza Maggiore 6 Tel. (+39) 051/203526
  • Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna in Piazza Costituzione 3 Tel. (+39) 051/502859
  • Museo Civico Archeologico in Via dell’Archiginnasio 2 Tel. (+39) 051/233849
  • Museo Civico d’Arte industriale e Galleria Davia Bargellini in Strada Maggiore 44 Tel: (+39) 051-236708 (free entry)
  • Museo Morandi in Palazzo d’Accursio, Piazza Maggiore 6 Tel. (+39) 051/203646-203386-203526
  • Museo Civico Medievale in Palazzo Fava-Ghisilardi, via Manzoni 4 Tel. (+39) 051/352655

* Culture

Bologna has the most ancient university in Europe, founded in 1088. This is why it is called ‘La Dotta’, the learned one.

The enormous and impressive University of Bologna, Alma Mater Studiorum, is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. Its Law Faculty (Facoltà di Giurisprudenza) is particularly famous, and originated as far back as the 11th century, having inherited from the ancient Romans the love and admiration for the law which was at the root of Bologna Studium, as the University was originally called. Another important jewel in the city’s academic crown is the astronomical observatory, Italy’s oldest.

The University has had many eminent students over the centuries. They include Dante, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, Pope Nicholas V, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Copernicus and, more recently, Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of biological electricity, and Guglielmo Marconi, the pioneer of radio technology.

Bologna is still very much a university city, with a population of students from all over the world that brings the local population of 400,000 to 500,000. The thriving, lively University district is a hub full of bars and cafés.

Bologna University
Bologna University

Visit the University Museums which have free entry, located in Via Zamboni 33, for their many interesting exhibits and collections of scientific teaching aids from the 1500s to today. There are different museums for all scientific disciplines, botanical gardens, herbarium, mineral collections. La Specola and Museums of Astronomy houses a scaled-down model of San Petronio’s astronomical clock. The Anatomical Wax Museum contains a collection of 19th century anatomical wax models which were used to study the human body and the malformations caused by the various illnesses.

All along Via Zamboni are university faculties. Having reached Piazza Verdi, Via Zamboni gets pedestrianized. Here is the Teatro Comunale, the main theatre, built in 1756.

* History

Until the end of the nineteenth century’s urban reconstruction, Bologna remained one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe, and even today it remains of unique historic value.

Bologna has a very long history: founded by the Etruscans around 534 BC as Felsina, it became a Roman city by the name of Bononia, then acquired great status and power in the Middle Ages. In 1294 Bologna was one of the ten most populous cities of Europe.

* Arcades

Piazza Maggiore is the heart of the city and has been so for 2,500 years. This beautiful square surrounded by portici (elegant arcades) is like an enormous living room, clean, civilized, very Italian. You can wander around it, it’s traffic-free. Then stroll down the architecturally stylish street Strada Maggiore and admire its colonnades and mansions.

In ancient times, Bologna was the city of towers (see below). Today Bologna is rather the city of arcades: they extend for as long as 40 kilometres. Breathtaking is the arcade (porticato) climbing up a hill path to the Basilica di San Luca which dominates the city from above and protects it. It is a place of pilgrimage, and it is believed that the arcades were built to shelter pilgrims from winter rain and cold. Still today every year in May, the month when the Madonna di San Luca comes down to visit the city, tradition has it that it rains on the procession days.

* Towers

Bologna city centre has about 20 towers. The symbol of the city are the Two Towers (Le Due Torri): Torre degli Asinelli and Torre della Garisenda, standing next to each other in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana and characteristically leaning in opposite directions. Get there by bus n. 13, 14, 19, 25, 27. You can admire them both, but only Asinelli is open to the public.

The colossal towers were built by Bologna’s important patrician families in the 12th century.

In Medieval times, Bologna was the “città turrita”, the towered city. There were as many as 180 towers rising above the sea of rooftops. This is because at that time the towers were status symbols, and rich Bolognese families ostentatiously showed their pride and power by competing for the building of the tallest towers: the taller the towers, the more powerful the family.

A popular legend has it that Torre della Garisenda, built around 1120, was originally taller than today, but its top was demolished due to rivalry among families. In reality, the tower was never completed due to land subsidence, which is also the cause of its strong leaning of 3.22 metres. In mid-14th century it was necessary to lop off part of the tower to reduce its inclination. It is just above 47 meters (160 ft) tall and is even mentioned in the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, who lived in Bologna for a while. Dante’s verses support the hypothesis that the tower was taller during his times, and he compares it to Anteo bending down: “Qual pare a riguardare la Garisenda/ sotto il chinato, quando un nuvol vada/ sovr’essa sì, che ella incontro penda:/tal parve Anteo a me che stava a bada/ di vederlo chinare?”, Inferno, canto XXXI. On the leaning side of the tower there is a plaque inscribed with Dante’s verses.


Bologna portici, or arcades, covered walkways with marble floors
Bologna portici

Standing in the centre of Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, Torre degli Asinelli is the highest tower in Bologna. It pierces the sky with its 97 metres (318 feet). For a few euros you can climb its 498 steps to the very top, from where you can enjoy a truly amazing view of Bologna terracotta roofs and the green hills behind the city. In good weather the panorama can embrace as far as the sea and the Veneto Prealpi mountains. It is open daily 9am to 6pm (5pm in winter). The Asinelli family wanted a tower with their name in 1109, but its building was only completed 10 years later. The tower was also used as a prison; according to legend, an iron cage was suspended in the air from it, holding the worst criminals. The tower has an inclination of 2.23 meters.

* Beauty

The urban centre is shaded porticos, covered walkways with marble floors, breathtaking buildings, agile towers, picturesque little streets and alleys twisting around ancient medieval palaces, and artisan shops maintaining antique traditions. And don’t forget the beautiful Opera House.

The Piazza Maggiore is the heart of the city, and the result of many changes over the centuries which gradually added more and more major buildings to it. It is a huge pedestrian square surrounded by many Renaissance and medieval buildings and landmarks. Nearby are numerous cafés, bars, street performers, musicians, that contribute to a vibrant atmosphere.

Piazza Maggiore contains the Basilica di S. Petronio with, on its right, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo del Podestà and the impressive facade of Palazzo dei Banchi.

Next to Piazza Maggiore is Piazza del Nettuno, with the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), designed by Tommaso Laureti and sculpted in marble and bronze by the Flemish Giambologna in 1563. This big, famous, splendid fountain is the symbol of papal power: as Neptune dominates the waters so the Pope dominates the world. At the god’s feet are four cherubs, representing the Ganges, Nile, Amazon and Danube, the longest rivers of the continents which were then known (the same theme used by Bernini for the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Four Rivers Fountain, in Rome’s Piazza Navona, with the Rio de la Plata instead of the Amazon).

Many important churches shape the city landscape, interrupting the skyline with their tall spires and adorning it with their beautiful architecture. Examples are Santo Stefano, San Domenico, San Francesco, Santa Maria dei Servi, San Giacomo Maggiore and San Petronio.

Bologna attractions are hundreds, but if you have limited time stick to the following itinerary, recommended by Bologna City Council:

Bologna - Piazza Maggiore
Bologna – Piazza Maggiore
  • Palazzo Re Enzo – between Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Re Enzo
  • Palazzo Del Podesta’ – Piazza Maggiore
  • Palazzo dei Banchi – Piazza Maggiore
  • Palazzo dei Notai – Via Pignattari 1
  • Basilica di S. Petronio – Piazza Maggiore
  • Palazzo d’Accursio – Piazza Maggiore 6
  • Le Due Torri – Piazza di Porta Ravegnana (see above)
  • Palazzo della Mercanzia – Piazza della Mercanzia 4
  • Basilica S. Stefano – Via S. Stefano 24. It is in fact a complex of several churches, called ‘Santa Gerusalemme’
  • Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio – Piazza Galvani 1
  • Basilica di S. Domenico – Piazza S. Domenico 13

Other suggestions: Via Piella’s Torresotto and Window with canal view; Ex Ghetto Ebraico; Oratorio di Santa Cecilia; Casa e Corte Isolani (admire the exterior); Chiesa Santa Maria dei Servi; Palazzo Pepoli in Campogrande; Mercato di Mezzo – Antico mercato (market); Santa Maria della Vita, church and oratory; San Giovanni in Monte with its beautiful cloister; Santa Lucia; the splendid, cobbled Piazza San Domenico with its high columns from the 1600s.

Bologna - Palazzo della Mercanzia
Palazzo della Mercanzia

* Shopping

Bologna city centre is relatively small: the historical and artistic sites are close to the shopping district and the most famous, trendy, super-fashionable boutiques.

* Cuisine

Bologna la Grassa (the fat one) is famed for its food specialties. Many types of fresh pasta are part of the typical cuisine of Bologna or its region, Emilia, including tortelli, tortellini, ravioli, tagliatelle, lasagne.

Many of Bologna specialities unfortunately are rich in fat and meat. But vegetarians and health-conscious people should rejoice in the knowledge that there are a number of good vegetarian restaurants in the city. Here are a few of the best known:

# Clorofilla – Strada Maggiore 64/c, Tel/fax (+39) 051 235343. Vegetarian and organic restaurant in the heart of the city center. English and Spanish spoken. Closed on Sundays. Approximate price for a complete meal à la carte (wines and drinks not included): 10-20 Euros. Good value. Air-conditioning, bar. Get there by bus n. 14, 19, 25, 27.

# Coffee2Glo – Via Riva di Reno 118 OP, Tel (+39) 051 232041. Email: [email protected] Very good vegetarian and vegan bar. Tables waiting staff and take away, reservation service, street parking, wheelchair accessible, serving beer, wine and spirits, free Wi-Fi, ideal for kids.

In Italy, restaurants are generally open from noon to 2.30-3pm and from 7-8pm to 10-11pm. Hours of opening vary a little, this is only a general guide.

* Trade fairs

Bologna hosts major international business fairs and tradeshows throughout the year, attended by people from all over the world.

BolognaFiere is one of the world’s leading exhibition centres, which offers state-of-the-art facilities and services for the organizers, exhibitors and visitors.

All kinds of international exhibitions, trade events, industry fairs are held here, from motor shows to contemporary art exhibitions, from technologies to urban planning, from fashion to home ideas.

Bologna - San Giovanni Cloister
Bologna – San Giovanni Cloister


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Bologna factfile

Bologna is the capital city (‘capoluogo’) of the region Emilia-Romagna, wealthy, politically progressive, well run. With almost half a million inhabitants, it is one of the ten most populated cities in Italy, and is in the Pianura Padana (Po Plain), the large, flat valley of the river Po, in Northern Italy.

It is 1.30-2 hours from Venice and Milan by train, and one hour from Ravenna and Florence. It is 378 km (234 miles) north of Rome, and the train journey lasts 3 and a half hours.

Even historically, its geography has always been Bologna’s destiny: its rise as a commercial power was caused by its halfway location between Florence and Venice.

Bologna is at the hub of Italy’s main communication routes due to the city’s strategic location as an obligatory passage between the north and south of the country, and has a major interchange railway station, Bologna Central Station, which is in the city centre near the historical sites.


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