3 Days in Bologna: Everything You Should Know
Bologna, Italy is located in the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. It is the capital of that region and is one of the biggest cities in Italy. When you are only able to spend 3 days in Bologna, you may be wondering how you can pack the most things in those few days. By setting an itinerary ahead of time, you will be able to divide and conquer the city.
Bologna is known for several different things including the oldest university in Europe, the University of Bologna. The university was founded in 1088 and is older than Oxford and Cambridge. Bologna is also famous for its arcades, or succession of contiguous arches supported by columns or piers. The city has the most arcades than any other city and has over 23 miles of arcades in the city center.
Spend time exploring the Piazza Maggiore and the Piazza del Nettuno, the Basilica di San Petronio is located near the Piazza Maggiore and is a great old cathedral worth spending a bit of time wandering through. Follow along the Portico del Pavaglione to see the Archiginnasio.
Visit the medieval marketplace Quadrilatero and stroll down narrow alleys brimming with stalls and shops. Wander through the city center and check out some of the museums and art galleries such as the Museo Civico Medievale and the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica. You will definitely want to check out the food markets for street food and local fare and try the variety of restaurants throughout the city.
Out and about in Bologna shopping and sightseeing? Deciding on a change of plans to experience food tours or one of many day trips out of the city? Store your bags safely with Bounce luggage storage if your bag burden gets heavy. Dragging your bags from one place to another will only slow you down.
Bologna Itinerary – Day 1
Morning: Stroll through Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore
Start your 3 days in Bologna with a walk. Piazza Nettuno was founded in 1565 and sits between the Palazzo del Podesta and the Palazzo del Comune. It is home to the famous Fountain of Neptune which was sculpted between 1563 and 1567 by two renowned sculptors, Tommaso Laureti and Giambologna. The fountain is one of the most visited places in Bologna and definitely a must-see when you are in town for 3 days.
After you have wandered through the Piazza del Nettuno, head to Piazza Maggiore which is connected by a narrow arcade. This piazza is the cultural hub of Bologna and is always bustling with locals and tourists. Street performers entertain the crowd and you can grab a coffee while you take in all the activity around you.
The piazza is bordered by several of Bologna’s religious and administrative buildings such as the Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo dei Bianchi, Palazzo del Podesta, and the Basilica di San Petronio. As you make your way through this dynamic city square, you will feel the atmosphere vibrate with excitement.
The architecture is amazing so be sure to bring along your camera. The arches that make up the Palazzo dei Banchi’s portico are impressive as are the castle-like walls of the Palazzo d’Accursio and the lovely clock tower with its bells that mark the hours of the day. Visit Bologna with this place at the top of your list.
Afternoon: Visit Basilica di San Petronio and Archiginnasio
After a break for brunch, start your afternoon with an architectural marvel. Located in the Piazza Maggiore, this impressive and important church is one you do not want to miss. Please note that the basilica does have a modest dress code, therefore everyone must have their shoulder’s covered and women’s shorts and skirts must reach the knees. This dress code is the same for most Italian churches so plan your wardrobe accordingly.
The Basilica di San Petronio is one of the biggest churches in Europe and has an interesting façade, half is simple brick and the other half has red and white carvings that are life-like and so elaborate. The façade was not fully completed with sculptures because part of the money set aside for the church’s construction was given to build the Archiginnasio.
It is free to visit the basilica but if you want to take photos while here, you have to pay for a photography pass. You will definitely want to pay the small fee for the photography pass so you have fantastic photos of the church to show friends back home.
When you leave the Basilica, head down the Portico del Pavaglione to the Archiginnasio which is a part of the University of Bologna. In the 1500s it was used as the main building of the university, today it is home to the biggest library in the region and also the Anatomical Theater.
Night: University of Bologna and Pinacoteca Nazionale
Founded in 1088, Bologna University is the oldest university in the world and is considered one of the top academic institutions in Europe. You can take a walk through the main campus and as you stroll along the cobblestone streets, you will be amazed by the ancient architecture of each building and portico.
Located next to the University of Bologna, you'll find the Pinacoteca Nazionale or the National Art Gallery. Be sure to check out the grand collection of fantastic Renaissance and medieval art. The humongous oil paintings dwarf many of the smaller art pieces but somehow it all works together making it an interesting and fun experience. While here, check out the outdoor frescoes painted on the gallery walls.
Bologna Itinerary – Day 2
Morning: International Museum and Library of Music
The deep musical roots of Bologna run deep and the city has even been named a UNESCO City of Music thanks to its over 1000 years of musical heritage. Exploring the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica or the International Museum and Library of Music is great fun for everyone, especially with the installation of some interactive exhibits. Get an up-close-and-personal look at rare and vintage instruments.
You will see original manuscripts and personal belongings of several famous musicians including Farinelli. The museum is housed inside a sophisticated palazzo that is filled with lavish furnishings and unique frescoes.
Afternoon: Food Markets of Bologna
Part of your 3 days in Bologna should involve the best gelato, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar! Visiting Italy's food capital is truly amazing and you will want to sample so many of the local dishes. The rich foods of Bologna beckon and while yesterday was jam-packed with sightseeing, you will want to take the afternoon of the second day to explore some of the food markets filled with amazing street food ranging from pizza to sausages to pastas.
The Mercato di Mezzo is within walking distance of the Piazza Maggiore and is an interesting three-story pavilion filled with vendors offering delicious foods from around the world. Mercato Delle Erbe is just outside the City Centre and is the best place for pasta, sausages and meats, and cheeses. You can even find fresh seafood at Banco 32.
Don't miss Quadrilatero. This interesting medieval market is one of the best places to explore when you want to feel the real vibe of Bologna. The narrow alleys are pedestrian only and filled with vendor stalls and shops that sell artisan goods, meats, cheeses, and even pasta. You will smell the market before you see it as all the yummy scents from freshly baked breads and sweet treats to simmering sausages. will find their way to you.
Food stalls are abundant here but if street food is not what you are craving, the Quadrilatero is home to a few of the best restaurants in Bologna including the Osteria del Sole and the Tamburini. It is really best to make reservations at either of these eateries, they are very popular with locals and tourists.
Before you are finished at the Quadrilatero, head over to the Via Clavature and find the Santa Maria Della Vita where the Compianto by Niccolo dell’Arca can be found. This famous 15th-century sculpture depicts the mounting of Christ and is a very moving piece even if you are not a Christian.
Night: Medieval Museum
The Museo Civico Medievale is a unique museum filled with exhibits that highlight Renaissance life and ancient battles that occurred in the region. The museum is in the Palazzo Ghisilardi, a 15th-century building that feels like a private residence.
The exhibits cover all things medieval including marble tombs, Murano glass, swords, suits of armor, and cooking utensils. It is a fun place to spend an evening. Learn more about the middle ages and see some incredible architecture while here.
Bologna Itinerary – Day 3
Morning: Hike the Tower of Asinelli
You will definitely get a good workout when you plan day 3 in Bologna so remember to wear comfortable attire and shoes. It is best to visit the Tower of Asinelli during the morning when the crowds are not as large. Built during the 1300s as a way for the rich families of Bologna to defend their estates and provide a dungeon or jail for their enemies, it is the tallest leaning medieval tower in the city.
At one time there were more than 100 towers defending the estates of Bologna, but sadly there are only about a dozen of these towers still standing with the most famous being the Asinelli Tower and the Garisenda Tower. The Garisenda Tower is not open to the public, but you can climb the 498 steps in the Asinelli Tower for breathtaking views of Bologna and the surrounding area.
Afternoon: Daydreaming of Venice and Museum Visit
A little touch of Venice has invaded Bologna and when you stroll along Via Piella between Via Augusto Righi and Via Bertiera you will see a quaint canal lined with charming buildings complete with classic Italian shutters. The salmon-colored wall on the other side of the canal has a small cutout giving an unaltered view of the canal.
This cutout or square window is called the Finestrella and is one of the most interesting things in Bologna. If you do not see the Finestrella, look for a handle sticking out of the salmon-colored wall, sometimes the window is shut and you just need to open it.
The Museo Civico Archeologico is home to many ancient artifacts including Roman, Egyptian, and Etruscan relics, all housed in a jaw-dropping palazzo. Wander through and check out the preserved mummies, marble carvings, pottery, and ancient manuscripts. Do not plan to visit on a Tuesday, the museum is closed.
After visiting the archaeology museum, walk to the Villa Ghigi Parco for a relaxing afternoon meandering down serene paths, checking out the vineyard, and enjoying fantastic views of Bologna. Sit on one of the benches and soak up the sunshine. You can grab a snack from one of the street vendors or pack a picnic and spend more time in the park.
Night: Hit a Nightclub
Bar Wolf is one of the hottest nightclubs in Bologna and is the best way to end your 3 days in Bologna. The club opened in 1960 and has been going strong ever since. With great music, delicious food including burgers, salads, pasta, and strong drinks, you will party the night away.
Located on Via Giuseppe Massarenti, Bar Wolf opens at 7:15 a.m. and closes at 3:00 p.m. but then opens again for the night crowd at 7:15 p.m. and stays jumping until closing at 1:00 a.m. Hang out with new friends, enjoy fantastic food, and loud, heart-pounding music for a night to remember.
Visit Bologna in 3 Days
When you land at Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport you should hit the floor running because your time is short. While you are here longer than a day trip, you will still be strapped for time. Bologna Central Station will become your new favorite place as you can get to most of the places on your itinerary.
Being Italy's foodie capital you can join a Bologna food tour that will take you through the historic center and give you the chance to taste fresh pasta, spaghetti Bolognese, and parma ham. Consider signing up for a cooking class or two if you have extra time during your trip.
Still planning your visit to Bologna? Check out these guides for more ideas!