After a long flight from Newark, NJ, with a few missed connections, we finally landed in Bologna for our first stop in Italy. Most people fly into Rome or Milan, but the Bologna airport is a less hectic option. The airport itself is small, so finding your way around is easy. Once you pick up your bags, you simply walk out the electronic doors and about 50 meters to the exit. Turn left for the taxis or turn right for the airport bus that takes you to the Bologna Train station, which is a short walk into town. But take a few minutes to check out the vendors inside. They have the largest and most complete salumeria (deli) you can find. After all, Bologna is a city for foodies.
Although it’s fun to stay inside the old city center, we chose the modern 4 Viale Hotel near the train station. I had emailed the hotel about our missed flights and warned them that we would be arriving late. Maybe they felt sorry for us because when we checked in, the guy at the front desk said that he was giving us a free upgrade. These small gestures of kindness are the reason we keep coming back to Italy. The hotel was clean, quiet and convenient. It also provided a very generous buffet breakfast, so we were pleased with our choice.
Bologna, called La Grassa, (the fat one) is a foodies paradise. Plan to spend a few days there to wander around the Via Drapperie and streets nearby to sample the delicacies at the old food shops—chocolate, fresh pasta, amazing cold cuts, rich Balsamic Vinegar and authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Tamborini has it all and you can even sit and enjoy a bountiful lunch at a fair price. A few doors away, you can find a fun shop full of cutlery and other tools for the kitchen. Anitca Aguzzeria del Cavalo has an eclectic mix of things old and new. Don’t miss it.
Eataly, an Italian marketplace started by Mario Batelli and Joe Bastianch is also there. It’s fun to explore the food items, but they also have a nice selection of cookbooks in English. Nearby, on Via dei Pescherie, you can watch the fish mongers selling all types of fish, including the huge silver eels.
Piazza Maggiore is a good place to start exploring. You can find the main Tourist Information office and get your city map and information on all the events going on. If you have the time, Bologna offers plenty of cooking classes and special day trips for food and wine tastings. The piazza itself often has lots of activity. If it’s a holiday, look for a free concert near the statue of Neptune.
The main cathedral, St. Petronio, not so attractive from the outside, is worth a visit inside. Besides the lovely artwork, be sure to look for San Petronio’s Meridian line, the longest Meridian Line in the world.
But our favorite church is really a collection of seven churches connected to Santo Stefano, located in the southeast corner of the old town. Because it’s a bit further from the main piazza, this area is often more peaceful and less crowded. The Piazza San Stefano is a nice place to hang out before visiting the churches. Walk from one church to the next and be sure to find the beautiful cloister. Each church is unique and all have their special appeal.
Bologna is a popular destination, especially on the weekends, so the popular sites can get crowded. But, just wander down some side streets to find a quiet piazza and it will have a decent cafe or trattoria nearby. We found a delicious selection of Amalfi pastries at La Duca, on Piazza Clementina. One of our favorite treats, sfogliatella is made fresh every day.
We also decided to skip the crowded Vermeer show (which we had seen in the US) and went to the Bologna Museum of Modern Art to see the works of Morandi, one of Italy’s best known modern artists. The museum is in a beautiful palazzo on the edge of the old town. Although it’s not a large museum, they have a few modern art exhibits along with a permanent collection of works by Morandi.
For anyone traveling to Italy for the first time, Bologna might be a good base for the north. It’s conveniently located between Venice and Florence, with fast connections to all of the major cities. It’s also a quick and economic train ride to some interesting towns such as, Ferrara, Ravenna, Parma and Modena.
For our favorite restaurants, check the Restaurant page. We’ve found a few good ones.
The Bologna airport is also a great place to pick up a rental car and easily arrive on the autostrada to start more adventures in Italy. Next stop, Le Marche.