What to do in Bologna / by Marco Secchi

Things to Do in Bologna: Walk Off Lunch

Bologna is also known as La Rossa or the red, for its terracotta rooftops, it’s a medieval city so you will find beautiful cathedrals and historic buildings but it’s also a left-leaning progressive city with modern art exhibits. There’s no shortage of culture in Bologna.

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Asinelli Tower is the city’s largest tower and you can climb to the top to get a great view. It slightly leans and is actually taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the 498 steps to the top will surely work off the extra pasta calories.

Piazza Maggiore is the main plaza in the city with lots going on from movies in the square to art fairs. To get here travel up Bologna’s main street – Via dell’Indipendenza and you’ll arrive at the famous Neptune Fountain in Piazza Nettuno which is just around the corner. Piazza Maggiore is also home to the Basilica of San Petronio which is an odd looking church as the bottom is pink marble but the top is brick. While it may not be the most beautiful, it is one of the more interesting as it was once supposed to be the largest church in the world until the Vatican discovered the plans and suddenly funds disappeared and were given to the university. Perhaps a better investment anyway.

Stroll the 666 portici in Bologna, or covered terracotta arcades. With an influx of university students, it needed to expand rapidly. No one wanted to expand outside the city so they build on top of the streets, student houses were created in front of existing storefronts with the portices below. They needed to be high enough to allow horse carts through and today over 45km remain, which are fantastic for the hot Italian sun or rainy days.

3 Three things to do in Bologna

1. Climb Italy's tallest leaning tower
Move over Pisa, Bologna has a great leaning tower of its own.When you visit Asinelli Tower in the heart of the city, you won't feel like you have stepped into a tourist trap.This tower is old, it's leaning and while walking up it's teetering stairs, you'll definitely feel like you're on an adventure. The wooden stairs are narrow and all that separates you from a tumble below is a thin wooden railing.But the climb is worth it because you'll come out to an extraordinary view of the ancient city's rooftops.

Cost: €3

2. Try Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional balsamic vinegar can sell for €50-€100 a bottle and after learning about how it's made and I can understand why.It takes a minimum 7-years to age traditional balsamic with most batches sitting in barrels up to 15 years.Some is even aged for 45 years. This isn't the balsamic vinegar that we buy at the grocery store at home and put on salads, traditional balsamic is thick and delicious.You only need a few drops to drizzle over anything you want including pasta, strawberries and cheese.

Cost: Eat balsamic vinegar it at a restaurant or during Aperitvo, then you won't feel the sting of €100 per bottle

3. Eat Parmigiano Regianno

Speaking of Cheese, Parma is just a short train ride away from Bologna and you must eat Parmesan cheese when visiting. Italians will tell you it is very good for you and you must eat it every day.  After a run,  before dinner, after dinner with prosecco...you name the time of day, we ate the incredible Parmesan Reggiano.Like traditional balsamic, tender loving care goes into making parmesan cheese. It is aged for two years and hand rotated on a daily basis to evenly distribute the flavour. 

What to Eat in Bologna
If you are heartbroken that spaghetti bolognese does not exist in Bologna, have no fear and order the tagliatelle with ragu or order one of many traditional food in Bologna.

Everywhere else in the world we know it as bologna, but here it’s called mortadella and it’s fantastic. Mortadella is an Italian sausage made from ground pork and pork fat. It’s decadent and amazing with a glass of prosecco.

Salame Rosa
Once you’ve had your fill of mortadella, try its lesser known cousin – salame rosa, which means pink salami. If a cooked ham and mortadella had a child it would be salame rosa as it is a cooked sausage made from pork shoulder.

In Bologna you will find Neapolitan pizza, so think thicker, softer crust. It’s not my favourite but if you’re on the go it’s a perfect snack.

Tortellini in brodo
Delicate parcels of pasta filled with minced pork in broth.

Italian flatbreads stuffed with cheese and meat.

Torta di Riso
A sweet rice cake.

There are some fantastic gelato shops in Bologna; however, I learned early on how to distinguish the difference from those that tourists eat at and gelato shops for locals – real gelato isn’t piled high to draw people in, it’s hidden in canisters beneath a counter so gelato needs to be cold. Makes you wonder how those piles of tempting gelato-like shops keep it cold. When in doubt go to Cremeria Santo Stefano.

Also, don’t miss out on Lambrusco, gorgeous sparkling red wine, that pairs fantastically with cured meat.