Are you getting ready to visit Bologna? Being the capital city and the biggest city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy has its advantages, including having plenty to keep folks busy on a rainy day! Look forward to many fascinating indoor attractions and activities.
While sights such as the Fountain of Neptune, the Basilica di San Petronio, and the Piazza Maggiore are most likely on your Bologna itinerary, if it is raining out you will want to find alternative places to see so you can fully enjoy your experiences in Italy. While sitting on a panoramic terrace at aperitivo time or attending intimate events like a small outdoor performance won't happen today, we've planned lots of fun for you.
Bologna on a rainy day is not a spoiled day at all when you have places such as the Santuario di Madonna di San Luca along with multiple ancient churches and museums to explore. Don't consider your day a wash simply because the weather is not cooperating with your plans. Grab an umbrella and head out to explore more of the indoor side of Bologna!
Luckily, with so many porticos throughout the city, you are protected from the rain in many spots as you move throughout the city. When out and about in the soggy city, drop your bags and unneeded items with luggage storage in Bologna so they are safe and dry. Then check out some of these rainy day activities in Bologna.
Santuario di Madonna di San Luca
While you probably won’t want to stand in the rain and look at the façade of this iconic church, you will be able to poke around in the nooks and crannies of the most famous church in Bologna. The Santuario di Madonna di San Luca sits at the top of La Guardia, one of the tallest hills in Bologna. The hill is called La Guardia because it has been used for defensive purposes to ward off the enemy.
It is believed that the evangelist Luke founded the location for the shrine and created the painting which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus in her arms. It is said that he traveled extensively until he had a dream that showed him the hill of La Guardia and revealed to him that this was where he should establish a church.
Throughout the years the church has undergone massive overhauls and the interior is now home to several fantastic works of art ranging through the ages from the 14th century to the present day. Visitors are encouraged to attend one of the church services but can visit any time to wander through the church and visit the shrine.
When you arrive in Bologna, you can easily see the shrine from the Bologna airport and train station as well as most of the highways leading into the city. You can stroll along the Portico of San Luca from the City Centre of Bologna. The portico was built to protect the pilgrims heading to and from the shrine from rain, snow, and even the hot sun.
The portico is made up of 666 arches, the exact number that is often linked to Satan. There is a very popular local legend that says the Madonna, depicted in the shrine, squashes the serpent under her feet, therefore squashing sin. You can take a guided tour through the portico up to the shrine and listen to local legends and stories about the area.
Archiginnasio di Bologna
The Archiginnasio di Bologna was once the main campus of the University of Bologna and is home to the Archiginnasio Municipal Library and the Anatomical Theatre. Head to Piazza Maggiore to see the Archiginnasio di Bologna. As you climb through the stairways and make your way through the corridors, you will be in absolute awe of the incredible architecture.
The Anatomical Theater is the place where autopsies and surgeries were performed. While it is not mandatory to make reservations through the week, you do need to have a reservation for Saturdays or holidays. If you are visiting during rainy weather, you will want to hop online and make reservations to ensure there is a spot for you.
Built in the 16th century, this building is now the biggest library in Bologna and one of the biggest in the region. The fresco paintings are almost as interesting as the ancient manuscripts on display in the library. You can easily spend a few hours browsing books, sitting in the book nooks reading, and staring at the art and architecture in the building. Free wi-fi is available here, too.
Relaxing in this amazing venue reading magazines is a great way to chill on rainy days. Check out the modern art that is showcased in some of the rooms in the library. The hidden beauty of the place will make you want to come back again and again.
Basilica – Santuario di Santo Stefano
The Seven Churches of Bologna is also known as the “cradle and heart of the Bolognese Church” and should be on your list of attractions to see when in Bologna. This huge complex is made up of seven churches and is where a lot of people come to worship and meditate.
You will get to explore the Church of the Crucifix, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Trinity, the Church of Vitale and Agricola, the medieval cloister, the courtyard of Pilate, the church simply known as Della Benda, and the museum. You will also get to see the Crypt through the windows, as you cannot enter the Crypt.
The outside of this complex is very unassuming with a plain façade. Once you pass through the main church, there are six more churches spread around the grounds and it is free to visit. The history of this place is simply incredible and you do not want to miss the chance to see it.
Basilica di San Petronio
This church is located in the Piazza Maggiore and is dedicated to Bologna’s patron saint, Saint Petronius, the bishop of the city during the 5th century. When you enter the piazza, you will immediately see this dominating church that was built in the 1300s but the façade went unfinished. Work to complete the church was commissioned in 2017 and is still on-going.
There is a lot to see when you enter the Basilica di San Petronio, including the 15th century fresco depicting Mohammed being tortured in hell. It is a truly moving piece and should not be missed. Cassini’s Meridian Line runs along the floor of the church. It was designed by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an astronomy teacher at the University of Bologna.
Museo di Palazzo Poggi
The Bolognese Senate purchased the Palazzo Poggi in 1711 to be the new Institute of Sciences and Arts. Over the next three centuries, most of the large rooms became blank canvases for famous artists including Nicolo dell’Abate, Prospero Fontana, and Pellegrino Tibaldi. Today, it has been turned into a museum.
The museum is dedicated to the geographical discoveries that occurred during the 17th century as well as physics, chemistry, natural history, human anatomy, and even military architecture. View maps made by cartographers as the new worlds were being discovered. See notes and drawings about the flora and fauna of exotic places and the myths surrounding them. Sign up for a thematic guided tour for the best fun.
La Macchina del Tempo
This is the first virtual reality museum not just in Bologna, but in all of Italy. Be sure to test out the Time Machine which allows you to experience historical reconstructions by using virtual reality technology. It is truly a marvelous thing to see and be a part of. The museum is located near the Two Towers and there are about 20 different stations that can be used at La Macchina del Tempo.
As you make your way through the different stations you will learn more about the history of Bologna dating back about 900 years. Learn how the intricate system of large towers were used as a defense mechanism to thwart enemies. Head back to medieval Bologna and stroll through the city as it looked in medieval times.
Museo per la Memoria di Ustica
On June 27, 1980, a passenger plane was shot down while on its way to land at the Palermo Airport, the remains of that DC9 plane are located just outside Bologna. French artist Christian Boltanski created a poignant permanent collection honoring those who lost their lives on that fateful day.
The Museum for the Memory of Ustica is a very moving place to visit and really brings to life the pain the city felt when the plane went down. The victims, 81 total, are remembered when you step into the exhibition hall when 81 lights in the ceiling turn off and on to the rhythm of a person’s breath.
The reconstructed airplane has 81 black mirrors that circle it and reflect your image as you wander through the gallery. The biographies of the 81 victims are listed on a black marble column. There are nine black crates near the reconstructed plane with some of the victims’ personal belongings including goggles, fins, shoes, and clothing.
Compianto sul Cristo Morto
Located in the Basilica Santa Maria della Vita, the Compianto sul Cristo Morto is one of the most poignant and moving pieces of artwork you will view when in Bologna. It does cost a small fee to view the sculptures, but it is well worth it. The church itself is unassuming, but the terracotta statues are so life-like that you can feel their pain and grief as they gather around the lifeless body of Jesus Christ.
The complexity of these statues is absolutely mind-boggling. You can feel all the way into your soul the total despair and complete horror of the figures as they come to terms with the death of their teacher. Even taking the religious aspect of the sculpture out of it, it is still a wonderful thing to view and one you will not soon forget.
Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica
Highlighting six centuries of European music, the Music Museum of Bologna’s nine rooms cover the history of music. There are over a hundred paintings of influential people within the music world. This picture gallery was started by Padre Giovanni Battista Martini and has continued to grow through the years.
There are also over 80 antique musical instruments that are on display as well as manuscripts and original musical scores. Historical documents and letters have also been preserved and are displayed in the museum. You will want to give yourself at least an hour to meander through this impressive museum. There really is a lot to see and learn about the history of European music and there are even acoustic shows inside on certain days and times.
You do not even have to be a lover of classical music to appreciate all the history housed in the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica. The informational plaques are in Italian but you can pay a small fee for an audio guide in English complete with small examples of the music played on the instruments and from specific composers being showcased.
Basilica Patriarcale di San Domenico
Michelangelo is most famous for his work in the Sistine Chapel, but what many people do not realize is that he spent some of his early years in Bologna working as a sculptor. Some of the most underrated works of art are the statues created by Michelangelo that are at the San Domenico Basilica. Young Michelangelo was in Bologna from 1494 to 1495.
There are three statues that you will want to see, St. Petronius, St. Proclus, and an angel, all made of marble. But while here, be sure to take the time to see more of the church and not just the sculptures by Michelangelo. There are also sculptures by Niccolo dell’Arca that you do not want to miss, including an amazing ark sculptured.
Bologna on a rainy day
Whether you are looking for warm and beautiful places to spend hours out of the rain or looking for hidden gems that not all tourists will be looking for, there is definitely something fun, interesting, and unique. From seeking out the best restaurants to visiting the Historic Centre of Bologna, you will stay busy and find warmth everywhere.
While the botanical garden may not be ideal on rainy days there are plenty of indoor activities that will prove interesting. Grab a cup of coffee and a sweet treat at a public café and watch the rain come down. You can also spend some time at Bologna's Modern Art Museum or wander through a beautiful middle age palace.
Looking for even more things to do in Bologna on a rainy day? Check out these other guides: