What to see in Bologna: one-day itinerary on foot

Bologna was a city that intrigued me a lot and I was hoping to visit it sooner or later. The opportunity came a few months ago, when Italo Treno offered a 40% off on return tickets. At that time I was in Turin and I said to myself “Why not take advantage of it?”. I bought a return ticket that very same day, saving a lot of money compared to the price of the basic fare. Here is my walking itinerary for a day in Bologna.

Bologna: the red, the learned, the fat

Why is Bologna defined like this? The three adjectives contained in this saying fully describe the soul of Bologna. Red refers to the color of the bricks used to build the buildings and the oldest towers (in addition to the predominant political orientation in the city); learned refers to its university founded in 1088 d.C., the fourth oldest in the world; fat refers to the rich Bolognese gastronomic tradition, which has given birth to some dishes that hold high the flag of Italian cuisine in the world: lasagne, tortellini, ragù, just to name a few.

In my itinerary I could see with my own eyes (and not only) each of these features: the color of the medieval buildings in Bologna city centre, the first university building (the Archiginnasio) and the tortellini eaten at lunch, in addition to the shop windows rich of gastronomic products, which were a sight for sore eyes.

Bologna in one day: the itinerary

I arrived in Bologna just a few minutes before 10 am. Despite being June, the weather conditions were not the best. Indeed, according to the forecasts strong rain had to fall between noon and two o’clock in the afternoon. But I didn’t let that deter me, because Bologna city centre is famous for its kilometers of arcades, so I would have been able to explore the city even under the rain.

Parco della Montagnola and Scalinata del Pincio

As soon as I got out of the train station, I arrived in Piazza XX Settembre. I found some Roman ruins and the beautiful Scalinata del Pincio, which leads to Parco della Montagnola.

This was the first public park in the city, wanted by Napoleon Bonaparte during the three days of his stay in the capital of Emilia. It is a place rich in history: in fact, the decisive battle which led to the expulsion of the Austrians from the city in 1848 was fought where today Parco della Montagnola stands.

The Scalinata del Pincio was built at the end of the nineteenth century. It consists of three parts: the arcade along Via dell’Indipendenza, the other along the walls and the staircase itself. The latter is decorated with two bas-reliefs “Bologna docet” and “Bologna Libertas” and a central fountain, which represents a nymph assaulted by an octopus.

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Scalinata del Pincio

Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro

I resumed my tour along Via dell’Indipendenza, a street fully lined with arcades and lots of shops. I walked down almost to the end, stopping at the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro.

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Via dell’Indipendenza

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Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro

The Cathedral has a Baroque façade, built with red bricks and marble decorations. On the two upper sides, the two statues of St. Peter and St. Paul stand out. The interiors are divided into three naves and are decorated in Baroque style. Among other things, inside you can see a lion-shaped stoup and the sculptural group of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ.

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Inside the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro

The Cathedral also has a 70-metre-tall bell tower, from which you can enjoy a 360-degree view over the city. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to access it. Its bell, which is nicknamed “the granny”, was built in 1594 and weighs 3300 kilograms.

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Bell tower

Piazza Maggiore

After leaving the Cathedral, I walked till the end of Via dell’Indipendenza to reach Piazza Maggiore, the beating heart of the city. Nearby you see the most important and well-known monuments of Bologna. As soon as I arrived in the square, I found myself in front of the Fountain of Neptune, which however was under restoration (now you can once again admire it in all its splendor).

Disappointed by not being able to see the Neptune, I entered the Sala Borsa Library. The main room has a nineteenth-century structure in cast iron and Art Nouveau glass. The transparent floor allows you to see the archaeological excavations, which testify to the various stratifications that the city has had over time. You can also get downstairs and see the excavations closely.

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Sala Borsa Library

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Excavations under the Sala Borsa Library

Once outside the library, I stopped in Piazza Maggiore to observe the various buildings that are located there. In fact, we find Palazzo d’Accursio, which is Bologna’s town hall, Palazzo dei Notai and Palazzo del Podestà, where the headquarters of Bologna tourist board are located. In Piazza Maggiore is also the Basilica di San Petronio dedicated to the patron saint of the city.

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Piazza Maggiore

Basilica di San Petronio

The Basilica di San Petronio is the sixth largest church in Europe (after St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and Seville, Milan and Florence cathedrals) and the third largest in Italy. It is the church the Bolognese feel more connected to, both because it is dedicated to the patron saint and because of its central position in Bologna’s main square Piazza Maggiore. It is a minor basilica, as the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro is the beshropic of the city.

The façade of the Basilica di San Petronio is unfinished. You can see it immediately, because the façade is divided into two areas: a lower one with marble decorations and a superior one with covered with red bricks, which were meant to be just a support base for the marble decoration.

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Basilica di San Petronio

Inside, the basilica has white walls and red brick columns. One of the main things to see is the longest indoor sundial in the world. A ray of light comes in from a hole at 27 meters in height, which strikes the sundial line, marking the passing of the days and seasons.

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Inside the Basilica di San Petronio

During my visit, there were some restoration works both inside the basilica and on the roof. Thanks to these works on the roof, it was possible to climb the terrace on the apse of the basilica (54 meters high), being able to enjoy from there a breathtaking view of Bologna. The entrance is in Piazza Galvani and the ticket costs 3 euros.

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Bologna from above

The Archiginnasio

Back with my feet on the ground, I went to the very close Archiginnasio. This palace was home to the ancient University of Bologna and today houses the municipal library. It looks like a building on two levels, in the middle of which there is an internal porticoed courtyard. One of the main features of this inner courtyard is the presence of many student and heraldic coats of arms, which bear witness to the ancient function of this palace.

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Archiginnasio

There are two rooms deserving a visit: the first one is the Anatomy Theater, the hall where anatomy lessons were held; the second one is the Stabat Mater hall, the ancient reading hall for law students.

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Anatomy Theatre

Lunch break: where to eat in Bologna

Lunch time had arrived and the sky was threatening rain. Gosh, the weather forecats got it right! Once outside the Archiginnasio, I took Via Clavature and stopped for a few moments to admire the Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita.

I resumed my journey towards a place where to eat Bolognese lasagna. In Bologna you are spoilt for choice when it comes to to eating well, but I had been recommended a place in particular: Sfoglia Rina, located in Via Castiglione. It is not a restaurant in the true sense of the term, but it is a pasta factory that also serves as a restaurant. It basically offers various dishes based on fresh pasta produced by them. Alas, when I ordered the lasagna, they waitress said it had just finished (actually it was almost 2 p.m.), so I had to fall back on tortellini in broth – they were absolutely delicious!!!

Basilica di Santo Stefano

I set off with the stomach full and walked through the arcades of the centre of Bologna towards the Basilica of Santo Stefano. While I was having lunch, the sky began to clear without even having poured a drop of rain and the sun was starting to make its way through the clouds.

I arrived in Piazza Santo Stefano, where the homonymous basilica is located. Coming from Via Santo Stefano, the square almost seems to have a funnel shape. In reality, we should talk about complex rather than basilica, because is composed by seven religious buildings.

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Piazza Santo Stefano

According to tradition, it was the patron Saint of Bologna St. Petronius, at the time bishop of the city, who wanted a church to be built on a pre-existing pagan building. From Piazza Santo Stefano you can see the façades of three churches: the ones of the Crucifix, of the Sepulchre and of the Saints Vitale and Agricola. I visited all the rooms of the complex and I must say that those that impressed me the most were the Church of the Crucifix, the one of the Sepulchre (where the Holy Sepulcher was reproduced and Saint Petronius was buried) and the medieval cloister.

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Church of the Crucifix

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Church of the Sepolchre

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Medieval cloister

The Two Towers and the Basilica dei SS. Bartolomeo e Gaetano

Surely you are wondering: “Didn’t you go to see the Two Towers, symbol of the city, and climb the Torre degli Asinelli? I went to see the Two Towers, but unfortunately I was forced to look at them from below. In those weeks, in fact, the Torre degli Asinelli was closed to visitors due to maintenance work – it would have reopened a few days later. My usual misfortune!

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The Two Towers

Disappointed by not having had the opportunity to climb the Torre degli Asinelli and photograph Bologna from above, I went to the nearby Basilica dei SS. Bartolomeo e Gaetano. Compared to the religious buildings seen so far, this basilica is an example of Baroque style. Usually in the baroque churches dominate light shades. In this case, instead, there was the prevalence of dark shades (mainly blue), creating a suggestive atmosphere.

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Basilica dei SS. Bartolomeo e Gaetano

Basilica di San Francesco

The next stop on my one-day tour in Bologna was the Basilica di San Francesco. Along the way, I passed by chance in front of the birthplace of Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio.

The Basilica di San Francesco appears as a Romanesque-style building on the outside, although it’s Gothic one on the inside. The style inside resumes the one of the Basilica di San Petronio, with white walls and red columns.

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Basilica di San Francesco

La Finestrella di Via Piella

I left a gem of Bologna as the last stop on my itinerary, before returning to the Central Station. I’m talking about the Finestrella di Via Piella (Little window of Via Piella). Looking through this little window, you can see the passage of the Moline canal in the middle of the buildings. This point of the city is in fact called “little Venice”. In reality, the passage of the canal can also be seen from the two bridges there (Via Piella and Via Oberdan), but looking at it from that window is an unusual thing.

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Finestrella di Via Piella

Bologna, I think we have loose ends!

Although, according to the weather forecast, the day would have been miserably ruined by the rain, in the end it didn’t happen. However, I can not say that everything went as I wanted. Bologna and I have loose ends and in particular for three reasons: 1. the Fountain of Neptune which was being restored; 2. I could not eat lasagna; 3. the Torre degli Asinelli was closed and I couldn’t climb up to admire and photograph Bologna from above. For this reasons, Bologna, I think we will meet again soon!

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