One day in Bologna should give you plenty of time to explore the largest city in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. It’s one of the more interesting places to visit in Italy, known for its old brick buildings and left-leaning politics. It’s also the oldest university town in Europe.
There is much more to explore here. It’s a city full of rich history, high-tech developments, and some of the finest dining in the country. In fact, the city has a rich food history. Bolognese was first concocted here. It has many nicknames including La Grassa (the fat one), alluding to its famous penchant for fine, rich foods, and La Rossa (the red one) in homage to it’s left-leaning politics and its terracotta medieval buildings.
The city boasts an interesting mix of hard-working high tech locals, super-rich opera-goers and politically edgy bolshie. There’s also the world’s oldest university.
Needless to say, there’s plenty to see and do in Bologna. Want help getting started? Plan your tour of the city with this complete 1-day Bologna itinerary…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Bologna in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
- Start with breakfast at Piazza Maggiore
- Tour the 22 chapels inside Basilica di San Petronio
- Shop in the Quadrilatero District
- Climb your choice of tower for a view of the city
- Wander the winding streets of the Old Jewish Ghetto
- Visit the oldest university district in Western Europe
- Take in local cuisine and spirits with a trip to Via del Pratello
- Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Bologna
What to do in Bologna in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
Getting around Bologna is easy, thanks to the simple grid layout of the streets. Most of the top attractions are also within walking distance of each other.
While one day is enough time to see most of the city centre, you won’t have time to visit every landmark. The city has dozens of old buildings.
As with most of our one-day city itineraries, we added a mixture of destinations to this Bologna itinerary. You’ll travel through the historic centre of the city, visiting old towers, churches, and public squares lined with cafes and classic buildings. Your trip also includes time for shopping and experiencing the local cuisine.
Start with breakfast at Piazza Maggiore
Start your Italy itinerary in Piazza Maggiore. It’s the primary public square, located in the heart of Centro Storico. Travellers tend to pass this public square when walking around the historic city centre.
The large public square connects several smaller squares and is surrounded by various religious and administrative buildings. It’s also where you’ll find the best pastry shops in the city.
Fill your stomach with a flaky snack from one of the shops as you explore the square. One of the more interesting sites is the Vault under the Palazzo del Podesta, located near the northeast corner of the square.
The vault includes a curved arch that runs under the Palazzo del Podesta and once housed a large city market. It was also once the site for public hangings. Modern travellers visit this spot for its strange acoustical effect.
If you and your travelling companion stand at opposite corners of the vault and face the walls, you can hear each other clearly and loudly, even when speaking in a whisper.
At the northwest corner of Piazza Maggiore, you’ll find the smaller Piazza del Nettuno. The smaller square is home to the Fountain of Neptune.
The massive statue of Neptune looks out over the square. The base includes various emblems and ornaments, including four statues of nereids with water flowing from their breasts. You’ll also see small cherubs, dolphins, and inscriptions.
Tour the 22 chapels inside Basilica di San Petronio
When you finish checking out the old statues and sites around Piazza Maggiore, cross the street south of the square to visit Basilica di San Petronio.
You won’t have time to visit all the historic churches in Bologna in 24 hours, but you can visit at least one. The Basilica di San Petronio is one of the most famous churches in the city and a short walk from the public square.
From the outside, the basilica doesn’t seem that impressive. The unfinished façade includes a marble design and decorations from various sculptors, but the top half remains incomplete.
The interior is much more interesting. It includes 22 different chapels, each filled with priceless art. Get your fill of history and culture in one a single trip. Tour the inside of the church and check out a few of the chapels.
The altarpieces, frescoes, and paintings mostly originate in the 15th to 17th centuries. You can view works of art from many famed Italian artists.
Work your way to the main chapel. It includes four marble columns and a large fresco depicting Madonna with St. Petronio. It’s also a necessary stop on your way to the chapel of the relics.
The relics chapel contains the bell tower. If it’s currently open to the public, you can climb up to the top for a view of the city. Don’t worry if it’s closed, as you’ll get another chance to climb a tower.
Shop in the Quadrilatero District
After a trip through the historic church, explore the surrounding streets to find places to eat and shop. Piazza and Maggiore and the Two Towers mark the west and east borders of the Quadrilatero District. This area is known for its narrow streets containing dozens of small shops, markets, and stalls.
You can find all types of food and goods throughout this area. In the medieval times, you’d find butchers, fishermen, and goldsmiths. The modern establishments include bakeries, jewellers, and delicatessens. You’ll also still find butchers.
It’s easy to find the alleys containing shops and stalls. You’ll hear the vendors calling out to customers as they walk past. It’s a noisy, bustling area with lots of activity.
Spend an hour or two walking the neighbourhood, working your way to the northeast corner. As you reach the edge of the Quadrilatero district, you’ll eventually see the tops of the Two Towers in the distance.
Climb your choice of tower for a view of the city
When you’re done shopping, cross Via Rizzoli to reach the Two Towers. During the Middle Ages, Bologna had hundreds of stone towers.
Over the years, many of the towers were destroyed or crumbled due to neglect. Several dozen of the towers remain, but the Two Towers are the most visited.
The towers stand at the intersection of the old roads outside of the former ring wall that protected the city. The towers were constructed between 1109 and 1119, making them a couple of the oldest attractions in the city.
The Two Towers appear in a couple of famous works of literature. Dante mentions one of the towers in the Divine Comedy and Charles Dickens wrote about them in Pictures from Italy.
Asinelli Tower is the taller of the two, standing 97.2 metres tall. Garisenda Tower is shorter, measuring 48 metres.
Asinelli Tower is usually open to the public. From the top of the tower, you can try to spot all the top things to do & see in Bologna.
Wander the winding streets of the Old Jewish Ghetto
After climbing back down from the tower, walk one block west to the entrance of the Old Jewish Ghetto. This part of the historic centre is called the Old Jewish Ghetto, but the only connection it has to the Jewish people that once lived here is the name. It’s a charming little area with narrow streets and a dark past.
The district was originally built to house Jewish people that settled in Bologna in the 6th century. It includes massive walls that blocked the ghetto off from the rest of the city and only had three entrances.
The entrance gates only opened during the daytime, locking the Jewish residents inside at night. They were also forced out of the city by the pope on two different occasions during the 16th century.
Today, the Old Jewish Ghetto resembles a small-scale version of the rest of the historic centre.
However, the streets are a little narrower and the buildings are a little smaller. It also features many bridges and staircases connecting the crowded buildings.
It’s an interesting area to explore and entirely pedestrianized. As you walk around, you’ll pass artisan workshops and dozens of cafes. Stop at one of the cafes for a quick treat before continuing on your way.
Visit the oldest university district in Western Europe
After exiting the Old Jewish Ghetto, travel northeast on Via Zamboni until you reach Piazza Giuseppe Verdi on your way to the University of Bologna. You can’t spend 24 hours in Bologna without visiting the university district. It’s home to the oldest university in the world.
First, you’ll stop at Piazza Giuseppe Verdi to see how the students spend their free time. It’s another public square and the main meeting spot for university students. You’ll also find a few coffee shops around the square.
Grab a cup of coffee, check out the street art in the square, and cross the street to reach the university. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and includes 11 schools and 33 departments. Most of the administrative offices are housed inside historic buildings.
Walk around the campus and check out the old architecture before moving on to the next leg of your journey.
Take in local cuisine and spirits with a trip to Via del Pratello
By the time you finish touring the University District, it should be close to dinnertime. The best late-night dining and drinking establishments are found on Via del Pratello. It’s a street located several blocks west of Piazza Maggiore, so you may want to hail a cab to cut across the historic centre.
Via del Pratello contains many bars, restaurants, and clubs. Find a place that suits your taste and go inside. You’ve now seen some of the most impressive sites in Bologna in one day. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some well-deserved food and drinks.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Bologna
Unlike other larger Italian cities, choosing where to stay in Bologna doesn’t usually present as much of a challenge. For most travellers with a quick layover in Bologna, the areas in & around the historic old town and main train station offer excellent accommodation options. Here are a few ideas…
- Zanhotel Regina: Located between the main train station and Piazza Maggiore, this popular hotel offers elegant modern rooms and self-catering suites for travellers looking for a more “homy” accommodations experience in Bologna. The location on Via Indipendenza is fantastic for shopoholics.
- Hotel Al Cappello Rosso: A four-star boutique hotel set in the heart of Bologna with more than 600 years of service behind it. Rooms sway the line between both classy and quirky.
- Hotel Corona d’Oro: Another superb four-star option featuring spacious rooms soaked with classic European elegance. Opt for one of the deluxe room for lovely views over the historic centre.
- Grand Hotel Majestic Gia’ Baglioni: Built in a former palace from the 18th-century, this stately luxury hotel offers an accommodations experience truly fit for royalty. The spectacular location in the centre of Bologna is perfect for all your sightseeing needs.