Famed for its porticoes, leftish tendencies, and a deserved foodie reputation; Bologna and its surrounds echo with the united footsteps of old and new. It’s a city where hipsters meet history.
Cyclists’ simultaneously pedal slowly and talk quickly on their mobile phones.
Students in converse trainers and skinny jeans chat to their amici, smoke curling from their cigarettes, as they scuffle across cobbled piazzas towards the university quarter’s latest outpouring of graffiti.
Fitness devotees pound the ancient portico steps on their evening workout to and from the Santuario di San Luca, a continuous 4km colonnade that climbs out of the city.
Look up, look down!
Bologna and its environs invite you to explore with your senses.
Visually, it’s a feast; and you’ll miss out on a lot if you keep your explorations at eye-level.
Join the huffing and puffing tourists (refreshingly few in number) to ascend the 498 steps of Torre degli Asinelli for €3, and snap pictures of its’ perilously leaning neighbour Torre Garisenda. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has nothing on this guy!
Gawp in wonder at the frescoed ceilings and walls which adorn university buildings, the cathedrals and Castello Estense in neighbouring Ferrara (35-55 minutes by train from Bologna, sights are around half an hour walk from Ferrara’s train station).
Tread lightly over the world’s longest sundial, housed on the floor of the enormous Cathedral de San Petronio on Piazza Maggiore.
For a taste of something a little more 20th/21st century, head to MAMbo (€6), Bologna’s modern art gallery. The current temporary design exhibit features cool designs of showrooms, airport lounges and more. The Museo Morandi (previously in a separate building) is housed here too – one ticket covers both.
[box type=”info”]I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Italy to help me find out about Bologna and surrounds. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]
Eat, drink and be merry from breakfast to bedtime
In the morning, do as the Italians do. A coffee (espresso or – before 10.30am – a cappuccino) at a local coffee bar. Sneak in a brioche to tide you over for a couple of hours.
Explore your senses and let your nose lead you through the streets around via Clavature.
You’ll find the indoor Mercado here – opt for a mixed meat and cheese platter for lunch, washed down – of course – with a local glass of wine. Delish.
6pm, and join the Bolognesi as they partake in an aperitivo called Spritz. It’s bright orange. To me the combination of Aperol, prosecco and soda water wasn’t smooth enough, but join in and you’ll get nibbles for free.
If you’ve not overdone the aperitivo buffet, head to a local trattoria for Bologna’s most famous dish, tagliatelle al ragu. This is the original and uncorrupted version of spaghetti bolognese. Without spaghetti or a tomato in sight, it’s a dish full of flavour. Try it at Trattoria del Rosso, home of local food at local prices, eaten with local people. The set menu (7-8pm) for a pasta dish with a glass of wine, water and coffee comes in at €10.
For your evening passagiata (walk), ice-cream is THE choice. The local Ferrara “Estense” flavour includes sumptuous fudge pieces. Prices everywhere are around €2.50 for two scoops. Mix your flavours for maximum taste heaven.
Costs and practicalities
- A city walking tour, departing the tourist office on Piazza Maggiore ever afternoon at 4.45pm, costs €13. Book in advance. I personally didn’t rate this tour, but the Tourist Office is a good source of information with English-speaking staff.
- The streets around via Clavature make for idyllic photo opportunities with flowers, fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses jostling for place with shoppers and red buildings.
- To walk the 4km portico to the Santuario di San Luca, head south-west out of the city to start at Porta Saragozza. Number 20 bus goes to the Porta and some of the way beyond for €1.20. This is a good choice for a Monday, when many of the city museums and galleries are closed.
- Neighbouring Ferrara, Ravenna and Modena are all within easy reach and provide “day out” options. A return train ticket to Ferrara is €9.20, castle entrance fee €6.
- A frequent bus runs from the train station to the airport for €6.
To sum up
Bologna’s atmosphere is one of a city going about its daily business, albeit in a hipster cool kinda way. Take in the architecture, the atmosphere and the calories without the tourist hoards; and round it all off with a Spritz.
Where else have you been that has a hipster vibe? How do you think Bologna compares against other Italian cities?