Bologna City Breaks Guide | Tourist Attractions & What to See and Do in Bologna


Bologna dates back to 600-450BC when it was the Etruscan capital of the Po plains, known as Felsina. After falling to the Gauls, it was defeated by the Romans in 189BC who founded the colony of Bononia. In AD500 during the break up of the Western Roman Empire, the town fell into the hands of the Byzantines, then the Lombards.

In 774 Charlemagne handed city over to Bishop Petronius. In 1088, Bologna University was founded and has since tutored students such as Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, Erasmus of Rotterdam and Copernicus. The expanding city had to build new lines of walls in the 12th and 14th centuries and at this time Bologna had around 180 towers, built by the leading families. The city was the 5th or 6th largest in Europe after Cordoba, Paris, Venice, Florence and Milan. After many wars, in 1338 the Black Death further decimated the population. In 1506 Papal troops captured Bologna; the city came under papal control. In 1796 the Napoleonic Army freed Bologna and established French rule and 60 years later Bologna joined the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. In 1941 Italy enters World War II as an ally of Germany and, tragically, witnessed a mass deportation of Bolognese Jews. It became a centre of the Italian Resistance and in Oct 1944, as the Resistance gained strength, 1830 were shot dead by SS troops at Marzabotto, south of Bologna. In April, 1945 the Allies liberated Bologna and the city became a stronghold for the Italian Communist Party.

Today, Bologna is a lively cosmopolitan University city, featuring a great medieval townscape with Renaissance palaces and miles of ochre-coloured arcades. With such a rich history, eclectic art, outstanding cuisine and music, it's no wonder that Bologna was made the European Capital of Culture in 2000 and is such an excellent choice for city breaks in Italy. It has several nicknames: La Rossa (The Red) for its russet colours and left-wing reputation; La Grassa (The Fat) for the fabulous cuisine and La Dotta (The Learned) for its taste for high culture and education. Known for its world famous spaghetti Bolognese, other specialities include Mortadella and Tortellini, together with some robust and interesting wines. There are many excellent walking tours including art history, and open-top bus tours of the historical centre.

Must-see attractions
The Santa Maria della Vita displays some of Bologna's most dramatic works of art, including the Mourning Marys around the Dead Christ - a silent 'scream in stone' as it was described by Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. The ancient Archiginnasio Public Library features a wood-panelled 17th century dissection theatre and the Stabat Mater Room, in which the famous Rossini piece was premiered.

The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains.

Just walking around Bologna is an architectural feast for Italian city breaks with styles encompassing gothic, baroque, mannerist, renaissance and Romanesque. The centre is very striking with a cobbled medieval street plan, vast ancient towers, red and orange coloured buildings, miles of porticoes and expansive piazzas. Watch out for the 13th century Town Hall, the Palazzo Poggi with the University of Bologna, the old Stock Exchange in Piazza Nettuna and the gothic Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio e Pepoli Campogrande.

Bologna is at the crossing point of the most important highways and railways in Italy. The nearest airport is the Guglielmo Marconi International Airport. There is an excellent local bus service.

Useful external links

Key facts
  • Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna
  • Oldest university in the world
  • European Capital of Culture 2000
Tourist attractions
  • Piazza Maggiore with Palazzo dei Banchi, San Petronio Basilica, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d'Accursio
  • The Two Towers
  • Basilica of St Luke
  • National Gallery
  • Modern Art Gallery
  • The Jewish Museum
  • Museo Morandi
  • Archiginnasio Public Library


  • Continental climate
  • Hot and humid summers with heat waves
  • Cold winters with snowfall
  • Spring and autumn - mild and rainy