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Nicknamed Italy’s foodie capital, Bologna is one of the most magical places to visit in the world. Picture this; maze-like Medieval piazzas, leaning towers, aromatic food markets, and incredible architecture, that’s Bologna in a nutshell.
We think three days is the perfect amount of time to build your Bologna itinerary. So, if you’re planning to spend 3 days in Bologna, you’ve come to the right place but if you have less time, don’t worry, you can adapt and adjust the plan to suit your needs.
This guide will give you an in-depth breakdown of the best things to do in Bologna – including visiting Italian hidden gems dotted across the city center and discovering the best gelato spots in town. So without further ado, here’s how to enjoy your 3-day stay in Bologna.
Top Sights for Your 3 Days in Bologna
When you visit Bologna, you cannot go wrong with adding these top sights to your 3-day itinerary. That’s because these highlights reveal Bologna’s history and are the epitome of its bustling culture and gastronomy.
Dating back to the 13th century, Piazza Maggiore is the historical and cultural beating heart of Bologna’s city center. This bustling square is one of the oldest in Italy and home to many of the city’s most famous buildings, making it a must-visit when in Bologna.
Historians estimate that Bologna had about 180 towers between the 12th and 13th centuries. These were built by the wealthy as a symbol of their power and for defense against their enemies. Today, Le due Torri (the Two Towers) are the most popular of only about a dozen that remain.
Basilica di San Petronio
Dominating the scenery in Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio was designed to be the world’s largest church. Evidently, that wasn’t to be. The basilica’s two-toned facade of marble and brick is a telltale that they couldn’t even agree on how to finish it. Nonetheless, Basilica di San Petronio is still an excellent place to admire Bologna’s Gothic architecture.
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
Just a short drive from Bologna’s city center, the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is one of the most picturesque places in Italy. Sitting atop Monte della Guardia, this pastel basilica is surrounded by lush trees and gives your sweeping views of the city.
National Art Gallery
The Pinacoteca Nazionale houses an outstanding collection of artwork from popular medieval and Renaissance artists. From ornate gilded triptychs to oil paintings and well-preserved frescoes in its galleries. There’s so much to see here, which is why it should be near the top of your 3-day Bologna itinerary.
Day One – Discover Bologna’s Historic Center
An excellent introduction to a city’s history and culture is by exploring the historic center. Spend time strolling through the bustling piazzas and marveling at Bologna’s leaning tower. Alternatively, you can take a cooking class and learn how to make the best food in Bologna.
Morning and Afternoon – Stroll through Piazza Maggiore
To learn more about the city, it’s good to start at the heart of it for your first morning. You can snap photos of the main square and its historical landmarks early before they get crowded. Dotted by porticoes, palazzos, and churches, Piazza Maggiore is home to some of Bologna’s best highlights.
Piazza del Nettuno and its dazzling fountain, Palazzo d’Accursio, Basilica di San Petronio, and Bologna’s Two Towers are some of the most picturesque parts of the square. So don’t forget your camera.
You’ll find other fun things to do in Piazza Maggiore, like strolling through the arches at Palazzo del Podesta. Then, admire the Renaissance architecture at Palazzo dei Bianchi, with its unique façade built to hide a rare medieval market.
Lunch and Gelato Stop Suggestions
- Bella Vita – This cozy restaurant serves delightful traditional Italian dishes. It is family-run, so you’ll receive a warm welcome. Pair that with their tortellini verde with mortadella, and you’ll feel right at home.
- Regina Sofia – This laid-back pizzeria is just a minute’s walk from Basilica di San Petronio and serves delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas, fresh pasta, and seafood.
- Gelateria Grom – Tucked along the vibrant Via d’Azeglio, this cozy gelateria is less than a minute’s walking distance from Basilica di San Petronio. This is a great stop before strolling through the piazza’s food stalls and shopping streets.
Detour – Board the San Luca Express to the Madonna di San Luca
If you can squeeze in another item to the first day of your 3-day Bologna itinerary before heading to dinner, it has to be the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
This Baroque cathedral is a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary and hosts one of the most important pilgrimages in Emilia Romagna. Take the San Luca Express train from Piazza Maggiore and ride through the lush hills of Bologna.
You’ll have time to admire the pastel-colored church and its impressive columns and frescoes. The basilica lies atop a verdant hill, giving panoramic views of the city.
Evening – Dinner or a Food Tour in Piazza Maggiore
There are plenty of restaurants and guided food tours operating around Piazza Maggiore. From wine bars to trattorias and walking food tours, you’ll have plenty of nighttime options.
Dinner at 051 Osteria
Wrap up your first day in Bologna with a delicious meal at 051 Osteria. Located just a short walk from Piazza Maggiore, this 4-star restaurant serves up an authentic local taste to the most popular dishes in Italy. 051 Osteria has an expansive terrace seating area, making it the perfect place to enjoy a tasty tagliatelle al ragu with cutlets while people-watching.
A Food Tour
If you’d like to taste as many traditional Bolognese dishes as possible, we’ve got you covered. How about an art and food tour, sampling local specialties like al ragù, parma ham, and balsamic vinegar from Modena?
Your local guide will also let you in on some of Bologna’s hidden secrets, famous monuments, and local art spaces.
Private Walking Tour
A private walking tour around the city center is an excellent way to see Bologna’s highlights and not miss a thing.
An expert guide will lead you through the historic center, from Piazza Maggiore to several of Bologna’s beautiful porticoes, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll then get to learn the story behind Bologna’s leaning towers, Asinelli and Garisenda, and how they represented power and wealth at the height of Renaissance life.
Booking an evening slot is a great idea if you’re a first-time visitor, as an evening tour allows you to see Bologna’s highlights without the daytime crowds.
Expert Tips: Bologna Itinerary Day 1
- Get the Bologna Welcome Card – This card gives you discounts and skip-the-line access to top attractions like the Asinelli Tower and the Medieval Museum. If you get the Bologna Welcome Card PLUS, you’ll get discounts on admission to the San Luca Express and the San Luca Sky Experience. Card rates range from €25 to €40. You can buy tickets online or at the Bologna Welcome Office in Piazza Maggiore.
- Learn about Bologna’s food culture – Food tours are the perfect way to learn why Bologna is known as Italy’s foodie capital. This Emilia Romagna city has numerous food markets, cafes, and restaurants on every corner.
Day Two – Wander Around the Outskirts of Quadrilatero
Now that you’ve seen the famous landmarks in Bologna, day two of your 3-day itinerary takes you through the outskirts of the city center. This bustling neighborhood has a trading and mercantile tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
Morning and Afternoon – Stroll Through Mercato delle Erbe
Designed in 1910, the Mercato delle Erbe is one of the largest indoor food markets in Emilia Romagna. Boasting plenty of food stalls where you can buy fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and wine. As you leisurely walk through the maze of stalls, you’ll get the aromas of fresh pasta, spaghetti bolognese, and balsamic vinegar.
The market also features a food court where local produce is used to make traditional tagliatelle al ragù and other famous dishes to try in Bologna. Take some time to look through the cheese shops for an impromptu parmesan cheese tasting.
Lunch and Gelato Stop Suggestions
- Sfarinà – Tucked in the heart of Mercato delle Erbe, this cozy bistro serves a great assortment of flatbreads stuffed with bacon, sausage, cheese, and delightful sauces.
- Trattoria dal Biassanot – This traditional trattoria boasts a classic menu with unmissable Italian staples like Bolognese lasagna, parma ham, veal cutlet with melted cheese, and the best of Bologna’s delicious food.
- Oggi Gelato – This exposed brick gelateria is about one to two minutes away from the bustling Mercato delle Erbe. Their menu offers a wide range of ice creams made with fresh ingredients sourced locally.
Detour – The Finestrella
Nestled in the heart of Bologna, the Finestrella, also known as La Piccola Venezia, is a small but famous window that gives you a sneak peek into Bologna’s lost canals. Unlike in Venice, Bologna has a 37-mile ancient canal system that is covered.
Some parts of the canal even have roads built over them, hiding them from plain sight. To get to the Finestrella, head down to Via Piella. This quiet street sits between Via Augusto Righi and Via Bertiera.
As you walk down the street, you’ll see a square cutout window on a salmon-colored wall. Look through it to get a glimpse of the canal lined with houses boasting classic Italian shutters.
Evening – Dinner Near the Two Towers
Before sitting down for dinner, take a private tour from Piazza Maggiore that ends at Torre degli Asinelli. Walk up the 498 steps to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city and to work up your appetite.
End the day with a tasty dinner at Bottega Portici. Situated within a one-minute walk to the Two Towers, Bottega Portici is a 4-star eatery where you can enjoy traditional ragù while getting views of Torre degli Asinelli. The restaurant serves up an array of fresh pasta and classic Italian food made with locally sourced ingredients from the Emilia Romagna region.
Expert Tips: Bologna Itinerary Day 2
- Take your time – You’ve seen most of Bologna’s highlights by the second day of your itinerary. So take the time to discover some of the city’s hidden gems as you leisurely stroll through the piazzas.
- Wear comfortable shoes – Day two of your 3-day Bologna itinerary requires a lot of walking around the outskirts of Quadrilatero. Pack comfortable walking shoes that will help you avoid sore feet after a long day of exploring.
Day Three – Explore the Vibrant University District
Up next on your Bologna 3-day itinerary is the lively University District. Flooded with students and young professionals, this vibrant neighborhood boasts an active nightlife scene and a series of hip restaurants and cafes.
Morning and Afternoon – Stroll through Pinacoteca Nazionale
If you’re interested in all things art and history, the Pinacoteca Nazionale is an excellent place to start. You can stroll through vast collections of 13th to 18th-century Emilian, late medieval, and Renaissance paintings.
After having your fill of Bolognese history and art, take a three-minute walk to Bologna University — the world’s oldest university in continuous operation. Founded in 1088, Bologna’s oldest university was home to the Anatomical Theater, where students would watch and take notes of a corpse being dissected.
Today, the Anatomical Theater is housed in the Archiginnasio of Bologna, a former main building at Bologna University.
Lunch and Gelato Stop Suggestions in the University District
- Forno Brisa – For excellent coffee and delicious pastries, bread, and pizza, stop by one of Forno Brisa’s five locations in Bologna. With food and wine publishing group Gambero Rosso’s stamp of approval, you can trust that you’ll be having some of the best food in Bologna.
- Taberna del Re Vallot – This quirky and cozy bistro offers traditional Bolognese dishes and some great cocktails at an affordable rate. It’s the perfect place for a late afternoon drink and some filling pasta.
- Il Gelatauro – This traditional gelateria is just a four-minute walk from Bologna’s university campus. Here, you can taste an assortment of gelato, pastries, and sweet cuori di stecco.
Detour – Museo di Palazzo Poggi
Museo di Palazzo Poggi is where you’ll find an intriguing display of scientific exhibitions and inspiring frescoes. Built in the 16th century, the museum has several displays in its so-called chambers.
These include the chambers of ancient geographical maps, military architecture, human anatomy, natural history, and much more. You’ll also find a collection of 500 Japanese woodcut prints. These include major artworks by 19th-century Japanese artists like Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige, and Kunisada.
Evening – Dine Out in Bologna’s Nightlife Hub
Bologna’s nightlife scene is always lively and light-hearted, and thanks to the number of restaurants and bars, there’s something here that everyone can enjoy.
What better place to eat the last meal of your 3 days in Bologna itinerary than at one of the finest restaurants in the city? Berberè – Petroni’s central location makes it a great spot for dinner and pre-drinks.
This restaurant boasts vibrant interior decor, with modern and industrial furnishings to polish off the eccentric look. You’ll be spoiled for choice, with everything from the classic Margherita to the special Bologna pizza made with mortadella, mashed potatoes, and aged Asiago cheese.
An excellent way to end your 3 days in Bologna itinerary is by attending a musical performance at Teatro Duse. This 999-seater theater hosts numerous musicals, plays, concerts, and ballet performances.
After attending a show at the theater, you can head to Ruggine Bar for a casual chat over a cocktail (or two). This shabby-chic pub also offers comfort foods like smash burgers, Mediterranean dishes, and cheese boards.
Wrap your night up with scenic night views of Bologna from Terrazza Teatro Comunale. This rooftop bar sits on the top floor of Teatro Comunale. It serves eclectic cocktails, and in summer, the bar hosts music concerts that will make your night memorable.
Expert Tips: Bologna Itinerary Day 3
- Book tickets in advance – If you are planning on watching a theater show when you visit Bologna, make sure to book your tickets in advance, as these can get sold out quite quickly.
- Be respectful – Try to be respectful when visiting churches, cathedrals, and other places of religious or cultural significance. Avoid making loud noises, and always cover your knees and shoulders.
- Take a day trip to Ravenna – If you can spare a couple of hours, a day trip to Ravenna should be how you spend it. This beautiful city in Emilia Romagna is known for its kaleidoscopic mosaics on many of its buildings. And to top it all off, Ravenna’s Early Christian Monuments are declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Arriving in Bologna
When arriving for your 3 days in Bologna, getting to the city center will be the least of your worries. This is because you can catch a BLQ train from Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport, which takes you to Bologna Central Station in less than 10 minutes.
If you plan to take day trips from Bologna, this handy guide on how to travel by train in Italy will give you tips for using regional trains. You’ll also learn about how and where to book a round-trip ticket back to Bologna.
Where to Stay in Bologna for 3 Days
If you’ve visited Bologna before, you know that staying in the bustling center close to Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore can be a blessing and a curse. You’ll be close to all of Bologna’s establishments, but it can get quite noisy, especially at night.
Nonetheless, Quadrilatero is still the best place to stay in Bologna. Here are a few options for you to consider:
Budget: Savoia Hotel Country House
If you’re looking to visit Bologna on a budget, consider staying at Savoia Hotel Country House. The hotel’s country-house ambiance is advantageous if you’re looking to escape busy hotel lobbies and full elevators.
You’ll enjoy hotel amenities like an expansive outdoor pool, a gym, and an onsite restaurant with live entertainment. You’ll also have a serene garden to leisurely stroll through.
Mid-Range: Meet Me in Bologna
Spending 3 days in Bologna for a honeymoon or romantic getaway? Meet Me in Bologna is the perfect studio apartment for you and your partner. This minimalistic space is clean, cozy, and has everything you’ll need. This studio apartment is right in the city center, making it easy for you to complete your 3 days in Bologna itinerary with ease.
Luxury: Grand Hotel Majestic già Baglioni
Situated just a stone’s throw away from Piazza del Nettuno, Grand Hotel Majestic is a 5-star boutique hotel that features an ornate interior with regal decor dotted in every room.
You’ll enjoy the hotel’s several dining rooms, boasting elegant frescoes and paintings. There are also terrace seats available so you can enjoy your meal with backdrops of the city.
Group Accommodation: The Scarlet Song
Traveling with a larger group? The Scarlet Song is a great place to stay for your 3 days in Bologna. This bohemian-styled apartment is spacious, gets tons of sunlight, and is centrally located close to Bologna’s highlights like the Finestrella. And the best part? It can accommodate up to 8 people!
Recommended Tour Companies in Bologna
While there’s something freeing about embarking on an itinerary alone, guided tours are a great way to learn about Bologna’s culture, history, and traditional cuisine.
Whether it’s a guided food tour, a cooking class, or walking around Mercato di Mezzo, taking a guided tour is a must when you visit Bologna. Here are a couple of tour operators to consider:
- Liv Tours is a highly-rated tour operator providing outstanding private and small group tours (six people max) in over 22 cities across Italy and Europe. You can cancel a tour up to 24 hours before it starts, and you’ll either get a refund or a 110% travel credit added to your account. Use our code “UntoldItaly” and get 5% off your next booking >>browse tours
- Withlocals offers private and personalized tours with passionate locals eager to teach you about the history and culture of your destination. Withlocals aim to curate tours that steer you away from crowded attractions and lead you to authentic local spots >>browse tours
Your 3 Days in Bologna Itinerary Awaits
Bologna is the capital and largest city in the Emilia Romagna region in Northern Italy. But this charming Italian city is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbors, like the Tuscan city of Florence.
Nonetheless, many travelers still find their way to this culturally and historically rich city in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. And hopefully, this guide has convinced you to make your way there too.