3 days in Bologna: lost in red and orange hues

La Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa
— Bologna's three nicknames

Bologna is a great introduction to Italy, located at the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region. It is a beautiful city with a distinct skyline, as 20 ancient towers are set against red and orange hues. This post provides recommendations for how many days to spend in the city, what to see while there, and where to find good food. The city has three nicknames — la dotta, (the learned) after the oldest university in Europe, la Grassa (the fat) for the food, and la Rossa (the red) for its politics and/or red buildings (depending on who you talk to).

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As part of a longer trip across Europe, we stayed in Bologna for five nights and fell in love with it’s food, architecture and relaxed vibe. To really see and enjoy the city, we’d recommend staying for at least two days, and allow extra time if you’d like to make any day trips around the area (more information on that below).

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As you can see from the outlines on the map above, Bologna is surrounded by ancient walls. The medieval centre of the city is remarkable, and can easily be explored on foot. Start at the main plaza, Piazza Maggiore (click to open in maps), and wander through colourful alleyways like Via Clavature, Via Pescherie Vecchie, and Via degli Orefici.

Find the Finestrella di Via Piella and small windows overlooking the Canale delle Moline. Walk through medieval centre in Ghetto Ebraico, Bologna’s 16th century Jewish ghetto.

Colourful buildings and canal at Finestrella di Via Piella


While you are in the historic centre, head to one of the most impressive city views that we’ve seen. In the 12th century, around 100 huge towers were thought to have been commissioned across the city by wealthy families. Over time, most of the towers have since been destroyed. The best vantage point in Bologna is found at the top of the highest remaining one, called Torre degli Asinelli (click to open in maps).

Staircase inside the Torre Degli Asinelli tower

Staircase inside the Torre Degli Asinelli tower

The climb is a bit of a nightmare, as the 498 steps are slanted, steep and too short for your shoe. You can see through the cracks and often the whole staircase comes off the wall, just to remind you that there is plenty of space to fall. BUT the view from 97m is simply unmissable.


Entry to Torre degli Asinelli is free with a Bologna Welcome Card (click to view website), and is 5 euros ($8 AUD) otherwise. Tickets need to be purchased in advance for a set entry time, and can be booked online here or purchased at the Tourist Office in Piazza Maggiore.

View of orange rooftops and blue domes in Bologna from the Torre degli Asinelli tower
View of orange rooftops and blue domes in Bologna from the Torre degli Asinelli tower

Visit the Archiginnasio of Bologna

The first university in Europe was founded in Bologna in 1088. This makes it one of the oldest in the world — second only to a university in Fes, Morocco, which was established in 859 AD.

The Biblioteca Communale dell’Archigunnasio (click to open in maps) is a beautiful library built during the 16th century, which was once used as the main building of the University of Bologna. It was built with the goal of creating a single place to host the schools of legisti (civil and canon law) and artisti (medicine, philosophy, natural sciences, physics and mathematics).

Although tourists aren’t allowed into the library itself (unless studying), it’s worth a visit for the lavish courtyard, baroque paintings, and impressive anatomical theatre.

Bologna ceilings and tiling in the Biblioteca Communale Archinnasio

Journey to the Sanctuario di San Luca

San Luca (click to open maps) is a breathtaking baroque church at the top of a hill just outside the city. The basilica is a sanctuary for Madonna and Child, a Byzantine painting which has brought pilgrams to the cathedral since the 15th century.

If we’re being honest, the painting itself is a little strange (or at the very least, abstract). It’s so important, however, that one of the longest arcades in the world, named the Portico di San Luca, was built in the 17th century to assist people in reaching it.


Bologna is proud of the Portico di San Luca, and the church can be reached by following its 666 arches for a very steep 3.8km. Otherwise, buses and tourists trains run regularly from Piazza Maggiore and cost 10 euros ($16 AUD) for a return ticket.

View of Sanctuario di San Luca from across the valley.

View of Sanctuario di San Luca from across the valley.

EAT GREAT food in bologna

There is tons to eat in Bologna, which is particularly famed for tagliatelle al ragu, lasagne, mortadella, tortellini and gelato. Here are some places to eat that we really enjoyed (click to open in maps):

  • Pizzeria due Torriwhile you are near the two towers, grab a great slice of pizza for just 1.5 euros ($2.5 AUD)

  • Salumeria Simoni if you around Piazza Maggiore, head down Via Pescherie Vecchie for cheese and meat platters in a beautiful alleyway

  • Osteria dell’Orsa — good tagliatelle for around 6 euros ($10 AUD)

best gelato

  • Gelateria Gregori Bologna — our Airbnb host greeted us with a huge box of orange, chocolate, biscotti, vanilla gelato from this gelateria and we 100% recommend it

  • For other desserts, head to Caffè Zanarini for Lingotto Africano, or to Impero for sacher cake and coffee


Cold meats and cheese from Salumeria Simoni

Cold meats and cheese from Salumeria Simoni

Pizza from Pizzeria due Torri

Pizza from Pizzeria due Torri

Bologna is close to Venice and the Cinque Terre

If you have extra time while you’re in Bologna, you can easily take a day trip to Venice, which is located just 1.5 hours away by train. Otherwise, if you’d like to head to the coast next, the Italian Riveria and famed towns of the Cinque Terre can be reached in 3.5 hours by train. You can view our full Italy itinerary here, which is perfect for a summer spent in vibrant cities and alluring coastal towns.


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The best ways to spend 3 days in Bologna

Cereal for Lunch is an art and travel blog run by Ling and Jace. We’d love to hear from you! Please don’t hesitate to leave a question or comment on the blog, or contact us below. For more ideas, chat to us on Instagram @cereal.for.lunch.