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One Day in Bologna – A First Timer’s Guide

If you are planning a trip to Italy then I highly recommend you spend at least one day in Bologna. After spending two months in Italy, it remains one of our favorite cities in “the boot”! Moreover, Bologna is also one of the best places to visit in Europe. You might think how could you possibly see everything in a single day, but Bologna is not a huge city that needs to be conquered over a few days. One day in Bologna is truly all you need to see everything. From piazzas to basilicas, palaces and foodie experiences such as eating a classic Bologna meal – there is plenty to enjoy with only one day in Bologna.

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How to Get to Bologna for One Day

Bologna is an easy and accessible day trip from a few major cities such as Florence, Milan, and Venice. By train, it takes anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes to go from any of those cities to Bologna. Therefore, you can easily arrive in Bologna before 10 am ready to start exploring the city and leave shortly after dinner. This would provide a full ten hours in the city, which is more than enough time to see everything in one day.

6 Things you Must See in One Day in Bologna

There are quite a few things to do in Bologna, but these sights are some of the very best to see for one day in Bologna. From stunning views at the top of a tower to finding a secret spot to hear whispers, enjoying a delicious traditional Bologna dinner, and more. As we have stated earlier, Bologna is a small city, thus all of these sites are within a fiveminute walking distance from each other.

Morning Climb to the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers

It is said that during the 12th and 13th century, Bologna had built over 100 towers, but only 24 survived. Among those, the Asinelli and Garsenda towers are two of the most popular towers that remained in the city. The Asinelli and Garsenda towers (also referred to as the two towers) are a magnificent sight to see. Moreover, an early morning climb to the top of the towers is truly the best way to begin your one day in Bologna. After 498 steps up the tower stairs, visitors will enjoy stunning views of the city.

An Afternoon at the Piazza Maggiore

The central square in Bologna is called, Piazza Maggiore. It is the heart of city and the perfect area to explore or relax during your one day in Bologna. The piazza is surrounded by a basilica, palace, and former administrative buildings that each have a unique structure and architecture.

In addition to spending the afternoon at Piazza Maggiore, if you have the opportunity, Piazza Maggiore is quite stunning during sunset. I recommend grabbing an Aperol spritz and watching the sunlight go down casting shadows over the top of the piazza buildings.

Watching the sunset in Piazza Maggiore during our layover in Bologna, Italy

San Petronio Basilica

The San Petronio Basilica is one of the more unique basilicas we have seen in Italy because of its brick architecture and unfinished facade. It is the largest church built by bricks and the tenth-largest church in the world by volume. In our opinion, the unfinished facade really brings more character to the basilica than if it was finished, which is why we find it so unique.

Palazzo Re Enzo

The Palazzo Re Enzo is Bologna’s heart and prestigious symbol of the city. Visitors can explore the palace and learn about its rich history. Or visit the palace’s whispering gallery and have a little giggle. Go to a corner of the whispering gallery while another person goes to a corner across the room. Then whisper a secret, like “I love you” and only they will be able to hear it!

Sanctuary of San Luca

In my opinion, the most beautiful architectural building in Bologna is the Sanctuary of San Luca. The sanctuary is located outside the heart of the city on Colle della Guardia, a forested hill. It is truly a sight not to be missed during your one day in Bologna. Though it is a place of worship, the Sanctuary of San Luca could easily be recognized as a castle – it is that magnificent. In addition, the views from Sanctuary of San Luca provide a gorgeous panoramic view of Bologna.

To visit the Sanctuary of San Luca, you can take a taxi or the San Luca Express. However, if time and physical condition permits, the walk to Sanctuary of San Luca is one of the most rewarding and peaceful walks of your life.

The Basilica of San Domenico

If you are an art enthusiast, then a visit to the Basilica of San Domenico is a must during your one day in Bologna. Though the basilica is not in the heart of the city, it is one of the richest churches in Bologna for art history. The Basilica of San Domenico is both beautiful inside and out. However, its the inside that is truly enriching. Inside the Basilica of San Domenico are priceless works of art by famous artists such as Michelangelo.

Enjoy a Classic Bologna Dinner

Bologna is a food lover’s dream! There are simply so many foodie things to enjoy in Bologna – one being the famous bolognese sauce. Honestly, what better way to spend a layover in Bologna than enjoying a classic Bologna dinner with drinks!?

There are several restaurants to dine outside in the Piazza Maggiore. We highly recommend everyone enjoy Bologna’s famous bolognese sauce with everything! Two popular dishes are the tagliatelle pasta with bolognese ragu and Emilia Romagna’s traditional lasagna verdi alla bolognese.

Lasagna verdi alla bolognese is Bologna’s classic lasagna made with spinach pasta, hence the verdi “green”. It is also made with their classic bolognese ragu and béchamel sauce layered between the spinach sheets. This lasagna was hands down the best we have ever had. Make sure you get your lasagna verdi alla bolognese during your layover in Bologna – we promise you will not regret it!

Cinema Ritrovato Festival

If you are lucky, you can enjoy Bologna’s annual Cinema Ritrovato Festival during your one day in Bologna. This festival is dedicated to restoring and rediscovering iconic movies, as well as little-known films during the silent movie period. The festival has a selection of at least four hundred films from all around the world.

The silent movies are accompanied by live music composers and musicians. The festival is always held in late June and you can find tickets here. After the film, you can travel back to your original destination or stay the night and depart the following morning.

More than One Day in Bologna? Take Day Trips!

Though Bologna is a great city to explore in one day, I also recommend staying here for a few days as a central hub. You can easily take day trips Modena, Padova, Ravenna, Verona, Brescia, and even Florence and Venice. Bologna is also a great hub for foodies – a lot of fantastic food tours begin in Bologna. One foodie tour can take you to see three production facilities such as Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar facility, and Parma Ham. Furthermore, if you are on a budget, staying in Bologna rather than Venice and Florence is a great alternative.

I hope you have enjoyed my one day in Bologna guide. It is truly one of Italy’s best cities, especially for foodies and a destination you cannot miss!




  • Kate

    I lived 6 years in Bologna and I miss it so much! it’s a little gem, full of secrets and amazing hidden places! I hope you enjoyed your stay in this beautiful city 🙂

    • oursweetadventures

      Wow that is amazing!!! I am sure you got your fill of bolognese and lasagna!

  • Whoa, Bologna looks cool. When it comes to Italy I cant imagine it being too high on anyone’s bucket list but looking at the unfinished façade of San Petronio Basilica and then all the food would perhaps catapult it up the list!
    Also, how cool that you were there for the silent film festival. That is probably the most awesome thing to experience ever. The only thing that would have made it better is if they showed the old silent film on the side of the building rather than a screen.

    • oursweetadventures

      That is a great idea! Maybe you should start a festival project yourself! If you are one for bucket lists you should check out ours. We would love to hear any input on things we should add!

  • Italy is so beautiful — I can’t believe I haven’t been to Bologna yet, but you’re making me want to hop on a plane and head straight over! Thanks for the lovely post.

    Lucy x

    • oursweetadventures

      Aww than you, we hope you get the chance to experience Bologna for yourself one day!

  • Laura Barton

    That is super cool that you can rent a bus for your family. Would love to do something like this. I can only imagine the fun on board. I really love the Palazzo Re Enzo building. I like the character it has. I like how the sun reacts against it in the photo.

    • oursweetadventures

      Bologna had a lot of character throughout the city that made it very charming and different than other cities we visited in Italy. You should rent a bus with your family and make your way over there 🙂

  • Hang Around The World

    We have been 2/3 times in Bologna and what we love about this city is that even if the buildings are not so “young”, the city is full of young people.
    In Italy with a Fiat is the classic hahaha

    • oursweetadventures

      We did not realize Bologna attracted a young demographic. Yes, we drove almost 40 days in our little FIAT – it was great 🙂

  • Ania Travels

    I’ve been to Bologna before and thought it was an adorable city. So many young people bringing the city to life AND THE FOOD!!!!! Did you know the angle of the tower in Bolognia is actually greater than the one in Pisa. Pisa is just more popular.

    • oursweetadventures

      What?1?! That is crazy, we did not know that. To be honest we are glad that Bologna does not attract tourists like Venice, Pisa, Roma and others alike because Bologna had so much culture and authenticity.

  • Abigail Sinsona

    Looks like you were able to make the most of your short layover! The architecture blew my mind – I could spend an entire day in Piazza Maggiore just taking photos, people watching and relishing at the sights. The churches are beautiful and I do agree with you on the church with the unfinished facade. The facade seems to have more rustic quality to it!

    • oursweetadventures

      Yes! We loved the architecture of Bologna and wish we could have spent more time actually exploring the inside of these beautiful buildings. Oh well, I guess we will have to revisit 🙂

  • Teresa

    Bologna looks absolutely gorgeous! I’ve heard you can get some of the best food in Italy there too, and judging by your photos I really wouldn’t be surprised! Hoping to make it to Bologna some day soon! 🙂

    • oursweetadventures

      I would say that Bologna surprised us with their food. It was nothing fancy, just delicious!!!

  • Gwendolyn

    Great pics of the Piazza! Next time you return don’t forget to taste the best ice cream/yoghurt ice cream I’ve ever tasted at Cremeria Funivia! Also stroll down or eat at Via Pescherie Vecchie. You won’t regret it! Hope you’re visiting Padova too, great little city.

    • oursweetadventures

      Aww bummer! Wish we knew about these places since we loved the food we had at Bologna. We did go to Padova too! Post coming in a few weeks 🙂

  • John

    Looks like an awesome layover. The food looks incredible, especially the lasagna! The Palazzo Re Enzo looks really cool too!

    • oursweetadventures

      It was a layover for sightseeing and enjoying food that is for sure 🙂

  • Sara Broers

    Now that’s called family togetherness, all 14 of you in a bus, but in a destination filled with lots of beauty and memories to be made. Now I’m hungry for lasagna, thanks to ou!

  • Alberto C.

    Bologna is one of the few big cities in Italy that I haven’t visited yet. The architecture of the Piazza is BEAUTIFUL, I really hope that I can make it there soon! Looks like you had a great time enjoying the local food and the views 🙂

    • oursweetadventures

      It was a beautiful city that we wished we had more time at! We hope you get to visit on your next trip to Italy.

  • jitaditya

    You seem to have seen quite a lot for a layover. Especially for the food I see in this post, one will definitely pray for such a layover.

    • oursweetadventures

      Haha my family loves to eat, so we made sure we got some of Bologna’s best food 🙂

  • Chiera

    How is it possible that I have STILL never been to Italy! Bologna is on my list though. Looks like a beautiful place!

    • oursweetadventures

      I hope our posts make you purchase that ticket to Italy! It is definitely a country you need to visit for at least two weeks. Especially if you want to see a lot of the cities. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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