Week-end trip to Italy 2/3 - Bologna, the Red City

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Lisa & Pol
by Lisa & Pol
This post is linked to the following video :
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Bologna in February - Best kept secrets of the Red City [2024]

Filmed on : February 12th, 2023

Filmed in : Bologna, Italy

La Vecchia BottegaThe Social HubFinestrellaPortico della MorteUNESCO World HeritageBasilica of San PetronioMambo Bologna

Welcome to Bologna, a city in the heart of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region that is full of history, culture, and a lively student atmosphere.

wandering around Bologna
wandering around Bologna

Bologna is a place that is often overlooked by tourists in favor of more well-known Italian cities like Florence, but it has a charm and character of its own. After one day spent in Florence, we decided to hop on a train and give Bologna a chance. We did not regret!

bologna street art, middle finger
bologna street art, middle finger

One of the things that makes Bologna unique is its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can feel history everywhere you look.

The city's historic center is full of stunning architecture that dates back to medieval times, including the iconic Two Towers, the Basilica of San Petronio, and the picturesque Piazza Maggiore. 

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Bologna is also home to the oldest university in the world, which was founded in 1088, and its long history as an academic center has helped to shape the city's vibrant and welcoming atmosphere.

Bologna's architecture, Piazza Maggiore
Bologna's architecture, Piazza Maggiore

And that is perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Bologna, the large number of students who call the city home. With over 100,000 students attending its various universities, Bologna is a true college town.

Bologna main square, Piazza Maggiore
Bologna main square, Piazza Maggiore

This means that the city has a youthful energy and a lively nightlife scene that is sure to appeal to travelers looking for a fun and social experience. All the bars and cafes are not full of tourists but instead of locals and young students which changes the overall atmosphere of a city.

Bologna in details
Bologna in details

Bologna is known for its delicious cuisine, which is often referred to as "La Grassa" or "the fat one". Here are a few of the typical dishes you should try when visiting the city:

Tagliatelle al Ragù - This dish is essentially the same as spaghetti Bolognese, but made with fresh, wide noodles instead of spaghetti. The ragù is a slow-cooked meat sauce that is rich and savory.

Tortellini en Brodo - This is a simple but satisfying dish that consists of small, stuffed pasta in a flavorful broth. The tortellini are typically filled with pork, prosciutto, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Mortadella - This is a type of Italian cold cut that is similar to bologna, but with a more complex flavor. It's often served sliced thin and paired with cheese and bread for a quick snack.

Homemade pasta & frizzante at  Buca San Petronio, Bologna
Homemade pasta & frizzante at Buca San Petronio, Bologna

When it comes to finding good food in Bologna, you'll want to look for the tavernas, which are traditional restaurants that serve hearty, homemade meals. Be sure to arrive hungry, as portions tend to be generous!

dinner at La Vecchia Bottega, Bologna
dinner at La Vecchia Bottega, Bologna

Our first meal in Bologna was dinner, in a super cute, intimate La Vecchia Bottega. The place had very few seats and gave off a truly local vibe. We left the choice completely in the hands of the owner, who prepared a great selection of local cheese and ham, some pastry, peppers and olives,  nicely matched with the wine. Bologna welcomed us well!

Secondly, we can recommend this hidden gem: Buca San Petronio, slightly tucked away not far from the Piazza Maggiore. With it’s outdoor seating under the covered terrace, it was all we had imagined when looking for a restaurant in Bologna. The service was excellent and very quick and we really enjoyed their homemade pasta and “frizzante”.

Frizzante is a term used to describe a lightly sparkling wine that has less pressure than a fully sparkling wine, like Champagne. In Italy, frizzante wines are often enjoyed as a refreshing and casual option, and are perfect for sipping on a warm afternoon or with a light meal.

In the Emilia-Romagna region, where Bologna is located, there are several frizzante wines that are worth trying. You can find frizzante wines at many of the local bars and restaurants in Bologna, and they are often served chilled in a small glass. They are a great way to toast to a fun day of sightseeing or to enjoy a relaxing evening with friends.

Bologna's famous porticoes
Bologna's famous porticoes

Right outside of the Buca San Petronio is a cute passage with a perfect example of Bologna's famous porticoes. These covered walkways, which line many of the city's streets, were originally built in the 12th century as a way to expand living and working space in the city. Today, they provide shade from the sun and shelter from the rain, and are a defining characteristic of Bologna's urban landscape.

Bologna - the red city
Bologna - the red city

Bologna also has a network of canals that once served as an important means of transportation and commerce. While many of the canals have been covered over or filled in over the years, some still remain visible in the city's historic center. One of the best places to see Bologna's canals is at the Finestrella di Via Piella, a small window in a wall that offers a peek into one of the city's hidden waterways.

Canal of Bologna,  the Finestrella di Via Piella from the other side
Canal of Bologna, the Finestrella di Via Piella from the other side

Although we visited Bologna in February, which is considered an off-season, this place easily seemed like a number one attraction in the city. The spot is hardly hidden and it was impossible to overlook, thanks to a long cue of tourists waiting to take a picture in the small window. We decided to walk around the canal a bit and found a completely empty spot just at the other side of the small window, overlooking the same canal. Not the same picture perfect Instagram effect, but a nice alternative if you are not willing to wait in line for a picture.

Vista sul canale delle Moline
Vista sul canale delle Moline

It is hard to not compare Bologna with its more famous sister Florence.

In our opinion, in Bologna, you can enjoy great food, beautiful architecture, and fascinating history, but compared to Florence, you'll be doing it alongside locals who are happy to share their city with visitors.

funny lamps of Bologna, standing on small feet
funny lamps of Bologna, standing on small feet

While it's true that Florence may have more famous art museums and historical landmarks, Bologna has a more laid-back vibe that makes it a great destination for those looking for a more relaxed pace. The city's red brick buildings and narrow streets are reminiscent of Florence, but there are fewer crowds and less of a touristy feel. Overall, Bologna is a hidden gem in the heart of Italy that is well worth a visit!

impressive door in Bologna
impressive door in Bologna

PS: Originally we planned to visit Palazzo Bentivoglio, which was unfortunatelly closed ( we definitely have to come back).

Banca di Bologna Contemporary
Banca di Bologna Contemporary

But nevertheless, we have seen some art, firstly in Banca di Bologna Contemporary and then, just before catching a train to Pisa, we visited MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna.

MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna
MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna

PS 2: We have to recommend the great accommodation we had in Bologna! It was a 4*Hotel (The Social Hub), very near to the train station - Bologna Centrale. The night there costed us 80€ on a weekend and it was money well spent. The whole area was very modern, nice and clean, with perfectly comfortable beds and they even have an outdoors swimming pool, which must be amazing during summer! Just watch out because you might spend your whole time in Bologna over there :D

The Social Hub Bologna
The Social Hub Bologna

Lisa & Pol
Lisa & Pol
We're a Slovak-French couple in our twenties currently backpacking across Africa for a year. One of our goals is to inspire travellers to go explore this often forgotten continent. On this blog we're focusing on providing up to date info about prices and itineraries, especially geared towards backpackers on a budget. We also create content on Youtube and Insta if you prefer a more visual approach 😉
Categories : Italy
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