As I’ve mentioned a while ago, I had a weekend trip to Bologna coming up in April. I am now sitting at the airport, waiting for my plane back to Germany and reflecting on how amazing this weekend has been.
Bologna isn’t the most popular Italian destination for a weekend trip. Try to find a guidebook for Rome or Venice and you will have a huge selection to choose from. Verona and Milan, no problem. But we couldn’t find a guidebook for Bologna which made me realise that besides us, not many tourists come here for a weekend trip only.
Which is a shame. Bologna is a beautiful city, perfect for spending two or three days. Let me share some of the highlights of Bologna with you.
1. A walk around the city
We got a free map with a suggested 3-hour itinerary when we bought the Bologna Welcome Card at the airport and we followed the walk to get an overview of the city. It was a nice itinerary during which we discovered many beautiful places.
The tour started at the Fontana del Nettuno, just next to the Piazza Maggiore, which is Bologna’s main piazza.
From there, we slowly made our way through the city, stopping at various points of interest, which I will explain below.
2. Basilica di San Petronio
This is Bologna’s largest basilika. Inside, you can apparently find the world’s largest sundial. I’m not sure if we saw it. There was a line on the ground looking like a meridian so maybe that was it?
The cathedral was beautiful but what I loved most was the view from the top. There’s some construction work going on right now which meant we had to sign a waiver that it wasn’t the company’s fault if we died up there. Not the kind of paper you want to sign before getting into an elevator that shakes more than it should.
The view of the medieval city and the green hills in the distance was so stunning, it was worth it.
3. Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio
This building used to be the university from 1563 to 1805. The palazzo is impressive, with its beautiful courtyard and the paintings on the ceilings.
If you’re here, don’t miss the Teatro Anatomico and pretend to be a student from the 17th century, looking down at whoever poor sod was lying on the marble table.
4. Museo Civico Archeologico
This is a fascinating museum with many Roman, Greek and Etruscan exhibits. Unfortunately, all of the information was in Italian so we had no idea what we were looking at. Like many museums, it is housed in a beautiful palazzo.
5. Abbazia di San Stefano
This is not only one church but a huge complex of churches all connected to each other. Definitely take some time here to wander around the buildings.
6. Museo della Storia di Bologna
This museum was highly recommended in my guidebook and it was one of Bologna’s biggest disappointments. A temporary exhibition about street art was on display which my friend said was just awful so we didn’t spend much time looking at it.
The part that we had been looking forward to, the one about Bologna’s history, was in Italian. In some rooms, information was available in German. One room had a piece of paper with information in English.
My recommendation is to only come here if you speak Italian or you won’t understand what you’re looking at. There are nicer places in the city where you can spend your time and money.
7. Palazzo Comunale and the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte
Once again, a beautiful palazzo that is worth visiting for the building itself. Inside, you can find an art collection that you should take a look at.
8. San Colombano and the Collezione Tagliavini
Luigi Tagliavini was an organist who liked to collect instruments. They are now on display in the church San Colombano which is stunning to look at. The audioguide was informative without being too long. This collection was definitely one of Bologna’s highlights.
9. Museo Medievale
We went to this museum today morning which meant we only had an hour to walk around. I loved this museum and it’s perfect if you want to get an overview of Bologna’s history. Contrary to the Museo della Storia, information in English was available everywhere.
April seems to be the perfect month for visiting Bologna. The museums were almost empty, there were no lines in front of the museums and the weather was, with the exception of today, mostly pleasant.
If you arrive by plane or are planning on visiting a lot of museums, I highly recommend getting the Bologna Welcome Card. It includes tickets for the airport bus and free entrance to many of the museums mentioned above. We paid 20€ for the card. The airport bus would have been 12€ already so we saved lots of money that weekend.