The capital of the Emilia Romagna region of Ferrari and Parmigiano, Bologna looked like an aristocratic city as soon as I reached its historic center. Patrician buildings, covered arched protecting the streets from the sun and the rain, majestic squares and churches, and carved walls give the city its noble look. Its center is pretty compact and walkable, so one day in Bologna can be enough for a good walk around the main historical landmarks and getting a hint of what the city offers.
Sometimes taken as a day trip from Florence, while it’s pretty impossible to see Bologna in 1 day, you can still grasp its beauty and history along with understanding why it’s worth a longer trip.
While visiting Bologna in a day is ambitious and quite impossible, there is plenty of exploring and enjoying. Depending on your passions, you can plan themed trips, but if your goal is to have a general knowledge of Bologna’s past and present, our easy 1-day Bologna itinerary will give you some good hints on where to go for a fantastic city break.
Things To Do In One Day In Bologna
Start your day strolling around the Quadrilatero
The very first thing I suggest you do if you are spending only 1 day in Bologna is to get to know the streets that form what the locals call “Quadrilatero”. Stroll the roads covered with the city’s famous porticoes (covered walkways), admire the elegant architecture of the historical buildings and churches, and visit the daily local Mercato di Mezzo market.
This is the heart of the city, so if you are a slow traveler and there is only one place you want to include in your one-day Bologna itinerary, this should be it. More so, if your 24 hours in Bologna include also a night stay, I suggest you book your hotel in this area so you don’t waste your time with urban transport and are right on the spot. When you need to take your train, take a local bus or, if you packed light, enjoy the last sights on your 30-minute or so walk to Bologna Centrale main station.
Head to Piazza Maggiore
Right next on your 1-day Bologna itinerary should be 13th-century Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main square. Framed by historical buildings such as San Petronio Basilica,Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo del Podestà, and Palazzo dei Banchi, it sits close to Piazza del Nettuno, famous for showing the large Neptune sculpture in its center.
Duck into San Petronio Basilica
Dominating the view of Piazza Maggiore, the Basilica of San Petronio is the 14th-century church devoted to the saint patron of Bologna. Sporting a late-Gothic style, the interior of the Basilica shows a central nave framed by large red pillars and finely decorated side chapels.
I would recommend entering this church even if you are visiting Bologna in a day because it’s an important worship place for the city and also because it won’t take too much of your limited time. It’s right downtown in the most popular square that no first-timer should skip and always open.
Tuck into local food for lunch
Whether it’s a local market, a street food place, or a casual restaurant, Bologna’s culinary tradition won’t let anyone down. Lasagna, piadina, fettuccine al ragù, tortellini, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma are only some of the delicacies known and exported worldwide from the Emilia Romagna region.
Even with the ambitious plan of visiting Bologna in a day, I’m pretty sure you will have the time to lunch. Whether you want to grab a table and relax or go ahead with a casual, on-the-go meal, you can enjoy at least one of its traditional dishes. One day we had lunch at the cozy and delicious Ca’ Pelletti restaurant/bistro where you will find typical local fares, modern interpretations as well as the chef’s original recipes. We loved it and would have visited again if we had more days in Bologna.
Shop for food at Mercato delle Erbe
Mercato delle Erbe is a fantastic place for a relaxing meal, a street food-style treat, and for gift shopping. This large and historic market is a fantastic place for a casual meal and to shop for some of the best Italian souvenirs for your foodie friends.Even if you had your lunch somewhere else and you are only staying one day in Bologna, at Mercato delle Erbe you can buy some street food treats to have on the train on your way back home: definitely better and cheaper than what you would find at the station or on the train itself.
See Bologna’s Twin Towers
If it’s clear weather and you enjoy snapping pictures at stunning views, there is nothing better to do than climbing Torre degli Asinelli tower. You can do so by booking your ticket on the official tourism board website or with a private tour that includes food tasting. But since you have only one day in Bologna, you can just opt for admiring the towers without reaching the top and exploring other landmarks instead.
How to get to Bologna
If you are visiting Bologna as a day trip, chances are you want to reach the city with a high-speed train and devote as little as you can to extra-urban transfers. You can reach Bologna with a Freccia train from several cities including Florence, Rome, Venice and Turin. The same goes when you are going back to the city you are staying at, such as an easy train ride from Bologna to Rome, Florence, Naples, and more.
More than one day in Bologna? Here’s what you can do!
We spent two days in Bologna, so we managed to visit more places. It was pretty hard for me to decide what to leave out, but in case you fall in love with the region and want to stay longer, here are some ideas of what else you can do.
- Explore the complex of the 7 Churches. It’s called like because there are several worship places all next and/or inside each other. Very fascinating, while it might not be easy to include it if you are only one day in Bologna, I’d definitely check it out if you stay longer.
- Find Bologna’s hidden canals. We found them dry, but if you go in winter, you can enjoy the view of the city’s canals lower than street level.
- Visit the Archaeological Museum. History buffs can’t miss this. Located near Piazza Maggiore, the museum shows rich collections of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek archaeological relics.
- See San Luca Sanctuary. This is not exactly downtown but is connected to the city center through a 4-km-long road and the world’s longest arcade. An iconic symbol of Bologna and important cult place.
- Take a day trip to Ravenna. It takes only a train ride and it would add such a huge value to your trip. Ravenna is home to several UNESCO-listed sites and is famous for its gorgeous mosaics. And it’s one of my main regrets since I couldn’t manage to go.